On Tuesday, Telegram users suddenly received a message from its employees. “We, the Telegram team, ask you to give us your opinion,” it said. However, the makers of the messenger were not concerned with finding out what people think about their service and its functions. Rather, they let them vote on “how the data of German Telegram users can (or not) be shared with the German authorities, including the German police (BKA)”.
There are three possible answers, the digital referendum should run until Monday at noon German time. As of Friday morning, more than two million users have already cast their votes, at least that’s what a count below the vote shows.
The survey is surprising – and for several reasons. In which cases and to what extent Telegram has to pass on data to German authorities is of course neither in the decision-making power of the provider nor that of its users – it is stipulated by law.
Actually Telegram had declared to the federal government at the beginning of the year that it would help in the consistent prosecution of criminal offenses on the platform. It was a delicate signal of goodwill, after the platform had previously not even been accessible to the authorities. The service is now threatening to torpedo the burgeoning cooperation with its unusual survey campaign.
The Ministry of the Interior reacted in astonishment
They had “no prior knowledge” of the survey and took it ” with astonishment,” says the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) when asked by SPIEGEL. Contrary to what Telegram suggests, the users cannot decide anything here: “The legal obligation to release data to the investigating authorities under certain conditions applies,” emphasizes the ministry. “Relying on the voting results of the survey cannot justify refusing to release the data.”
This February, there were direct talks between the federal government and those responsible for Telegram for the first time. The BMI State Secretary and Federal CIO Markus Richter as well as Telegram co-founder and frontman Pawel Durow took part in the video conference, and the Federal Ministry of Justice was also represented. It was then said that Telegram had signaled “the greatest possible willingness to cooperate” and that the service had named a high-ranking contact person for a direct line.
This was preceded by years of hide-and-seek by the Telegram makers. Not even two notices of fines with a threat of punishment of up to 55 million euros could be delivered to those responsible at the official office address in Dubai. In letters from April 2021, the Federal Office of Justice accused Telegram of violating the German Network Enforcement Act.
The proceedings continue, as confirmed by the Federal Ministry of Justice on request. The company has meanwhile inspected the files through a law firm and submitted statements. These would be “currently evaluated” in the Ministry of Justice.