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Telegram founder tells Tucker Carlson that US intel agents tried to spy on user messages

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13 minute read

Telegram’s Pavel Duroc

From LifeSiteNews

By Matt Lamb

Federal law enforcement tried to convince a Telegram engineer to change the software so law enforcement could read the messages of its users, Pavel Durov told Tucker Carlson during a recent interview.

Federal law enforcement tried to convince a Telegram engineer to change the software so law enforcement could read the messages of its users, the company’s founder told Tucker Carlson during a recent interview.

But he also warned the bigger threat to free expression comes from Google and Apple, which effectively control the use of apps on smartphones.

Telegram is a messaging app that founder Pavel Durov created with his brother after experiencing harassment by Russian officials. Durov remains the “sole owner” of the company. Users can set up “channels” to send mass messages. This function has been useful for political movements, including democracy activists in Hong Kong.

It now has 900 million monthly users worldwide. It uses encrypted messaging which protects users’ privacy.

Born in the Soviet Union in 1984, the entrepreneur had created another social media company; it predated Facebook but was similar in its networking functions. Russian officials demanded Durov hand over private data from groups on the platform, called VK, that were organizing against Vladimir Putin and the country’s leadership.

But in some ways, he faced similar problems from American officials when he was working in San Francisco.

“We get too much attention from the FBI, the security agencies, wherever we came to the US,” Durov said. “So, to give you an example, last time I was in the US, I brought an engineer [who] is working for Telegram, and there was an attempt to secretly hire my engineer behind my back by cyber security officers or agents, whatever they are called.”

Durov said the officials “were curious to learn which open-source library site integrated through Telegram’s app,” he said.

But furthermore, “they were trying to persuade him to use certain open-source tools that he would then integrate into the Telegram code that, in my understanding, would serve as backdoors.”

“The US government, or maybe any other government, because a backdoor is a backdoor regardless of who is using it. That’s right,” Durov said.

“You’re confident that happened,” Carlson asked, about the recruitment efforts.

Durov said yes, because the engineer wouldn’t have a reason to make up the story and Durov shared that he himself has been targeted by the intelligence agencies for recruitment.

He told Carlson:

There is no reason for my engineer to make up the stories. Also, because I personally experienced similar pressure in the U.S whenever I would go to the US, I would have, two FBI agents greeting me at the airport, asking questions. One time I was having my breakfast at 9 a.m. and the FBI showed up at my house that I was renting. And, that was quite surprising. And I thought, you know, we’re getting too much attention here. It’s probably not the best environment to run…

… They were interested to learn more about Telegram. They knew I left Russia. They knew what we were doing, but they wanted details. And my understanding is that they wanted to establish a relationship, to, in a way control Telegram better… I understand they were doing their job. It’s just that for us, running a privacy focused social media platform, that probably wasn’t the best environment to be in. We want to be focused on what we do, not on the government relations of that sort.

“Government relations,” Carlson said, laughing.

The company has now operated out of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for seven years.

Durov said the company has had better experiences in the UAE. In addition to low taxes and few regulations, the “best part” is that country has not pressured the company to work with it to spy on users.

Carlson asked:

So, in the time that you’ve been here, there have been a number of wars and threats of war. Precursors to war. Have you had any pressure from the government here [in UAE)? Honestly, any pressure from the government here, to reveal a back door into Telegram or to ban anyone or to make any changes to your business?

“That’s the best part. For all the seven years we’ve been here, there’s been zero pressure coming from the UAE towards Telegram,” he said. “They’ve been very supportive, very helpful, and it’s a big contrast [to] whatever we’ve experienced before.”

He said the company has been “receiving a lot of requests” to work with governments. When there is clearly something like “terrorist activity,” the company does assist. In other cases where it was legitimate free speech, Telegram ignores them.

Asked to give an example of “censorship” and privacy violations, Durov related how his company received conflicting letters from American congressional leaders related to the investigation into the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Democrats in Congress,”requested that we would share all the data we had in relation to what they called this uprising. And we checked it with our lawyers, and they said, you better ignore it,” Durov recalled. “But the letter seemed very serious. And, the letter said, ‘if you fail to comply with this request, you will be in violation [of], you know, the US Constitution or something.”

He said two weeks later Republican leaders sent the company a letter telling the company that complying with the request for data would also violate the US Constitution.

“So, we got two letters that said, whatever we do, we’d be violating the US Constitution,” he said.

Biggest censorship threat is from Google, Apple

Even after going through numerous requests to hand over data or install spying software on Telegram, Durov said the biggest threat to free speech is not even from governments, but from Big Tech platforms Google and Apple.

“I would say the largest pressure [on] Telegram is not coming from governments. It’s coming from Apple and Google,” Durov said. “So, when it comes to freedom of speech, those two platforms, they could basically censor whatever is you can access on your smartphone.”

The companies can remove Telegram from the app stores, which would hurt the company.

“Obviously a big chunk of the world’s population would lose access to a valuable tool,” he said.

The “application of the rules” seems political at times, Durov said. The “rules themselves” are “pretty general,” such as no “violence” or “publicly available child abuse materials,” he said. “It’s hard to disagree with that.”

But Telegram and the Big Tech platforms clash over the “interpretation” of the rules.

“And sometimes they do agree, to their credit,” he said.

However, Durov said he is “hopeful” that past censorship of political movements is truly in the past, saying he does not ” necessarily believe that things are going to get worse.”

He contrasted the platform’s neutral position when it comes to the politics of its users with companies such as Facebook.

“I think Facebook in particular has a lot of reasons apart from being based in the US for doing what they’re doing. I think every app and platform plays its own role,” he said. “You know, we believe that humanity does need a neutral platform like Telegram that will be respectful to people’s privacy and freedoms.”

Durov affirmed he does not want to get involved in any specific political side, when Carlson asked if he wanted to be a “player in world politics.”

He still avoids the United States due to his past experiences with law enforcement.

Company would not take down content skeptical of COVID restrictions

While other platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, would remove or throttle content critical of COVID measures (such as forced masking and COVID jabs), Durov said Telegram did not.

He told Carlson:

We’re a neutral platform. We were helping governments to spread their message about the lockdowns and masks and vaccines. We got dozens of governments who we really [helped with], you know, some of their information, but we also didn’t want to restrict the voices that were critical of all those measures. We thought it made sense for…opposing views to collide and hopefully, you know, see some truth come out of those debates. And of course, we got criticized for that. But, looking back, I think it was the right strategy.

“During the pandemic, we I think were one of the few or maybe the only major social media platform that didn’t, take down accounts or that were skeptical, in relation to some of these measures,” he said.

Durov also said he thinks Elon Musk is doing a good job running X (formerly known as Twitter).

“What X is trying to do is in line [with] what we are building: innovation, trying different things, trying to give power to the creators, trying to get the ecosystem economy going,” he said.

“Those are all exciting things. And I think we need more companies like that,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s good for humanity that Elon is spending so much time on Twitter making it better, but it’s definitely good for the social media industry.”

Carlson ended by telling Durov he is “rooting” for the company. Carlson’s show has since opened its own Telegram channel.

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New Documentary Details Female Sexual Assault Survivor’s Story Of Being Incarcerated With Trans Inmate

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From the Daily Caller News Foundation

By KATE ANDERSON

 

A sexual assault survivor gave an inside look at living in a female prison with male criminals identifying as transgender in a new documentary by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) released Tuesday.

The six-minute documentary, part of IWF’s “Cruel & Unusual Punishment: The Male Takeover of Female Prisons” series, focuses on the story of Evelyn Valiente, a sexual assault survivor and former inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility. Valiente, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity, was forced to share a housing unit with a male inmate identifying as a woman while serving time for killing someone in a shooting.

“At first I thought it was going to be okay and it didn’t take long before this one particular individual was manipulative, calculating, vindictive and always looking and seeking to do harm to another person,” Valiente said regarding the inmate, who had a history of sex crime convictions.

In 2020, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed legislation requiring the state’s prison system to house inmates based on their gender identity and not their biological sex. Under the law, corrections officers are required to ask inmates privately how they identify and then work to house them accordingly.

Before her time in prison, Valiente had been sexually assaulted, and said that being in the same housing unit as this individual, who had been convicted of sex crimes, as well as other men made it “scary” not only for her but for many women who had “come from very abusive backgrounds.”

“It’s a lot of walking in trauma,” Valiente said.

WATCH:

Andrea Mew, IWF’s storytelling manager and co-producer of the documentary series, told the DCNF that while California lawmakers claimed that the transgender inmate bill was about keeping inmates safe, the law actually further victimized women in prison who often have been abused.

“It’s really interesting that California, at the same time that they are focusing on being all about rehabilitation, are subjecting women to being re-traumatized by a lot of their personal triggers,” Mew said. “Many women who are in prison are victims of sexual assault, emotional abuse, physical abuse and having men in their spaces can be a very big trigger for them. At the same time, it’s allowing violent male criminals to have unbridled access to, in many cases, the thing that got them there in the first place.”

Currently, five states: ConnecticutRhode IslandMassachusetts; California and New Jersey as well as New York City; have passed laws allowing men identifying as women to be housed in women’s prisons. However, other states, such as Wisconsin, have reportedly moved biologically male offenders identifying as transgender into all-female facilities despite their violent criminal history.

In September 2023, a female inmate sued the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in New Jersey after allegedly being assaulted in prison by a male inmate identifying as transgender. Another female inmate from New York City filed a lawsuit in January, claiming that a prison official instructed a male inmate who reportedly sexually assaulted her to identify as transgender so he could have “access to female inmates.”

Mew told the DCNF that she and co-producer Kelsey Bolar wanted people to imagine how they would feel if someone they loved in prison was forced to share a cell or a housing unit with a transgender inmate with a history of violence.

“People need to put themselves in the shoes of people who are in prison and just imagine yourself in there, imagine your own daughter in there,” Mew said. “There are a lot of things that could happen that could get you into prison that are complete accidents, so imagine yourself or your own daughter is in that sort of accident. Put yourself in the shoes of the person there and think about how it would feel if you’re being physically, emotionally and in some cases, as we’ve seen, sexually threatened by male criminals while you’re just trying to do your time and get home.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment

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Australians Abandon Physical Cash, Financial Freedom

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From Heartland Daily News

By J.D. Tuccille

Australians abandon physical cash for digital payments that are easy to use, monitor, and block.

The end of cash has been heralded for years—mostly by government officials eager to end the expense of minting coins and printing banknotes while pushing transactions to digital forms that can be tracked and taxed. The transformation has met varying degrees of acceptance or resistance from people around the globe. But Australians appear to be eagerly advancing down the road toward a cash-free world.

Disappearing Banknotes and Coins

“Cash was once a staple in the economy, but it’s fast becoming a relic of the past,” according to an April report on Australia’s financial evolution from SBSNews. “Just a decade ago, more than half of transactions were cash. Now it’s just one in seven, and it’s happened at an alarming rate.”

Various forms of digital payments now account for the lion’s share of transactions, with a growing number of merchants now refusing coins and banknotes, and ATMs disappearing around the country. That means cash is increasingly difficult to find and use even for those who prefer physical money.

The transformation was turbocharged by COVID-19, as people moved away from any sort of contact. But usage of cash was already plunging, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia, from almost 70 percent of transactions in 2007 to less than 30 percent in 2019. “Cash payments accounted for 13 per cent of the number and 8 per cent of the value of all consumer payments in 2022,” the bank finds.

While Australian consumers and central bank bureaucrats embrace the shift, there are serious downsides to an all-digital economy.

“Digital payments have shortfalls, including their reliance on the internet—which can prove problematic in times of crisis,” cautions SBSNews. The report described the plight of people cut off from processing services by wildfires that severed communications; those with cash could still buy necessities.

Digital transactions also require people to have accounts in their names, which is a challenge for young people and immigrants. And budgeting can be easier with paper and coins than with abstract numbers.

Unmentioned in the piece are any concerns about lost independence when all transactions can be monitored and, potentially, blocked. But that’s a major concern elsewhere.

‘Printed Freedom’

Printed freedom” is how German economist Lars Feld described physical money in 2015 while responding to a push in his country to abolish physical cash. He defended banknotes and coins on the grounds that people “should be entitled to an escape from all-out state control,” as Hardy Graupner of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle put it.

Such concerns came to a head in 2022 when the Canadian government cut off Freedom Convoy protesters’ access to their own bank accounts and blocked digital donations to their cause.

“It’s a Western version of China’s social credit system that does not altogether prohibit political dissent but makes it so costly that it becomes impractical to the ordinary citizen,” commented David Sacks, former COO of PayPal. He had already warned that electronic payment processors were working with governments to deny access to the financial system on ideological grounds.

Canada’s crackdown was dramatic, but it didn’t stand in isolation.

Digital Transactions and Targeted Industries

In 2022, American Banker reported that “a new code identifying credit card sales of guns and ammunition has been approved by the International Standards Organization, creating a potential path for card networks to help law enforcement agencies identify suspicious sales of guns and ammunition.”

Amidst concerns that banks would help government officials track gun owners, and several states banning the gun-specific merchant codes, the financial industry “paused” implementation.

The merchant code controversy was reminiscent of earlier government efforts, under programs including Operation Choke Point, to cut off businesses disliked by politicians from financial services.

“Operation Choke Point was created by the Justice Department to ‘choke out’ companies the Administration considers a ‘high risk’ or otherwise objectionable, despite the fact that they are legal businesses,” summarized a 2014 House Oversight Committee report. “The sheer breadth of industries affected – including firearms and ammunition sales, adult entertainment, check cashing, and payday lending – has generated significant concern with the objectives and scope of Operation Choke Point.”

Notably, physical money offers a workaround for businesses that government officials don’t like. To this day, marijuana is a largely cash industry for businesses legal at the state level but still illegal under federal law—a serious concern for heavily regulated financial institutions. For pot growers and vendors, cash may not always be ideal (it’s a target for thieves), but it offers the freedom to operate.

Use It or Lose It

That was the sort of concern that pushed Germany’s Lars Feld to describe physical money as “printed freedom.” It also inspired Swiss activists last year to urge their countrymen to vote “yes to a free and independent Swiss currency in the form of coins and banknotes.” Swiss officials rejected the initiative as insufficiently specific, but they also promised to incorporate protections for cash into the constitution.

Many Australians appear to feel otherwise, and they’re not alone. With demand plunging for cash, Denmark stopped printing and minting kroner in 2016 (private companies will be commissioned to produce more as needed).

“One of the reasons why it is no longer profitable to produce coins and banknotes in Denmark is that the Danes increasingly pay with either credit card or mobile phone,” BT reported at the time.

There is no denying that digital transactions are easy—sometimes too easy—requiring only a card or app, and not sufficient paper in your wallet. But despite the still largely unrealized promise of Bitcoin and other cyber currencies, most digital transactions leave records and require processing by third parties. Those intermediaries, under political pressure, can turn our own funds into tools of control. The more accustomed we become to digital payments, the more likely physical money and the freedom it offers will slip away.

“If you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it,” Steve Worthington of Swinburne University’s School of Business, Law, and Entrepreneurship told SBS News. “The less and less we’re able to access and use cash, the more likely it is that we will lose access to it the same way we have with paper cheques.”

It’s something to think about the next time you head for the store to make a purchase.

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