- Associated Press - Thursday, April 26, 2018

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran has ordered network providers to stop hosting the popular social messaging app Telegram, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported Thursday.

The report comes after the head of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi last month said Iran would block Telegram for reasons of national security. Since then, many government affiliated users of the app have emigrated to local alternatives.

Telegram allows users to send text messages, pictures and video over the internet. The service touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period of time, making it a favorite among activists and others concerned about their privacy.

In 2017, Telegram said it rented nodes for its content delivery network in Iran, which allowed servers to provide fast content delivery in Iran and other countries in the region. Thursday’s report said the order would lead to slowness and delays.

Boroujerdi said last month the decision to block Telegram was made “at the highest level” and the app would be replaced by a similar local system. He said the decision was a response to what he called Telegram’s destructive role in anti-government protests that began in late December in which at least 25 people were killed and nearly 5,000 reportedly arrested.

On Wednesday, the secretary of Supreme Cyber Space Council, Abolhasan Firouzabadi, said Telegram use declined 27 percent in recent weeks. He said about 12 million Iranians have registered for five domestic alternative messaging apps, despite some foreign-based claims that they do not safely protect users’ privacy.

Firouzabadi denied those claims, saying Iran is at the “top” in the world in protecting privacy of its citizens.

Hardliners have pushed for blocking the app in part because of its supposed role in the victory of reformists and moderates in parliamentary and presidential elections. President Hassan Rouhani and his administration have supported diversity for messaging apps.

Earlier this month, Russia began enforcing a nationwide ban on Telegram after a judge sided with authorities who demanded that the app be kept out of the country until it hands over the keys to its data encryption.

Russian authorities alleged that Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, has been used by violent extremists.

The app, which at one point had some 40 million users in Iran, was temporarily shut down during the protests in early January. However, some 10 percent of users reached it through proxies and VPN services.

Iran blocks some social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censors others. While top officials have unfettered access to social media, Iran’s youth and tech-savvy citizens use proxy servers or other workarounds to bypass the controls.

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