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WhatsApp Gets Blocked In Brazil Again: What Happened This Time?

3 May 2016, 6:11 am EDT By Jem Gezen Tech Times
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Brazilian Judge Marcel Montalvao has ordered local mobile network carriers to block the Facebook-owned messaging app, WhatsApp, for 72 hours. Companies who will fail to comply will face a hefty fine of $143,000 for each day that they allow access to WhatsApp.

SindiTelebrasil, an association of mobile phone operations in Brazil, indicated that its member companies would comply with the order to block the messaging app. Phone operators within this group include: Nextel, Telefonica Brasil SA, Oi SA, Claro SA, and Tim Participacoes SA.

Local newspaper Folha de S.Paulo was the first one to break the news about WhatsApp being shut down in Brazil for the second time in less than six months. In December 2015, a Brazilian judge in a Sao Paolo court ruled to block WhatsApp for 48 hours after the company refused to turn over data involved in an ongoing criminal case.

This decision, however, was lifted by another judge a mere 12 hours later, after a backlash from WhatsApp's 100 million Brazilian users, as well as net neutrality activists. The judge suggested to levy a fine against WhatsApp as an alternative to a total shutdown which would punish millions of users.

In March, Judge Montalvao also took aim at Facebook's local affiliate offices by ordering the arrest of Facebook's Vice President in Latin America, Diego Dzodan. According to authorities, Dzodan's detention was due to his failure to comply with the court's order to release WhatsApp user data.

The Facebook executive, however, was released quickly after it was established that the Facebook offices operating in Brazil were merely sales offices that had no access or control over WhatsApp data.

Now, less than a month after WhatsApp announced end-to-end encryption for all users, Judge Montalvao has issued a second ban for the service claiming that Facebook has failed to cooperate in an ongoing sensitive investigation by refusing to turn over the user data.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg expressed his displeasure about the initial ruling of blocking WhatsApp in Brazil.

"I am stunned that our efforts to protect people's data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp," Zuckerberg said back in December, commenting on the first ruling.

Zuckerberg also reiterates that due to the end-to-end encryption of the service, Facebook has no means to provide the unencrypted communication data being sought by authorities.

"This decision punishes more than 100 million Brazilians who rely on our service to communicate [. . .] in order to force us to turn over information we repeatedly said we don't have," Facebook says in a new statement, in response to the latest ruling.

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