Amsterdam PvdA wants to ban Telegram over explosive attacks
Amsterdam city councilor Fathiya Abdi wants the Dutch government to ban the encrypted communication app Telegram. According to her, the app plays a crucial facilitating role in the many explosive attacks that have plagued the Netherlands this year. Over the weekend, there were five explosions in Amsterdam and two in Rotterdam. Another blast happened in Amsterdam on Monday morning.
Telegram’s role in these attacks is twofold, Abdi told NOS Radio 1 Journaal. First, young people are recruited on the app to place the explosives in exchange for money. “And these types of chat groups sometimes have tens of thousands of participants,” she said. “And you also see a massive increase in the trade of heavy fireworks. These types of fireworks are often used for explosions but also for ATM bombings. Here, too, Telegram plays a facilitating role.”
The Public Prosecution Service (OM) wants to remove chat groups where people are recruited to commit crimes or where illegal items are traded. However, according to Abdi, such an interim solution would only work if Telegram were willing to cooperate with the authorities and take down chat groups in a timely fashion. And the app has repeatedly shown that it was unwilling to do so, she said.
According to data- and privacy lawyer Robbert Santifort, it would be very challenging for the Netherlands to ban a communication platform on its own, both legally and technically. “Must we block it via the various internet providers in the Netherlands or remove the app from various app stores? It can be very complicated. And that’s apart from the question of whether we should want to ban a communication platform and whether the users won’t just turn to another platform.”
According to Santifort, a better option would be to improve the enforcement of European rules on Telegram. The Digital Services Act will soon make that easier because it applies to Telegram specifically, he told the radio station. He explained that the law will make it easier for authorities to access Telegram and other digital communication platforms. If the service continues not to comply with the European rules, it will be easier for the EU as a whole to act against it.
Telegram has always claimed that its users’ privacy is guaranteed and never shares user data with the authorities. But according to BNR, that might not be the case. Documents it got from the Dutch police through an appeal to the Open Government Act showed that the Dutch police have a simple set of instructions they can use to get a Telegram user’s IP address or telephone number from the chat platform.
According to the documents, Telegram will consider requests for users’ data “if there is an immediate threat to life.” The police distributed the instructions in December, including a form with the Telegram logo, according to BNR.
The police wouldn’t tell the broadcaster how often Telegram has shared user data with them. “We simply don’t keep track of that,” a spokesperson said. “We collect a lot of data every day.”