In the past few months, WhatsApp has been the target of multiple court orders which attempted to force the company to turn over encrypted messages to law enforcement in Brazil. In December, a judge ordered phone companies to block the app in Brazil for forty-eight hours, but the order was overturned in less than a day. In March, an executive from Facebook, which is the parent company of WhatsApp, was arrested. That order was overturned on appeal as well, in less than a day. Earlier this week, a judge once again ordered the app to be blocked in the country, this time for 72 hours, but the order was soon overturned by a higher court.
Now Brazilian legislators are stepping in with a proposal to protect WhatsApp from being blocked in the future. The proposal would amend an existing law which allows for the blocking of websites and online services which are used in the trafficking of drugs and arms. The proposal would exempt messaging services like WhatsApp from being covered by the law. Sandro Alex, a legislator who helped draft the bill, explained the reason for the proposal by stating, “This way the legislation makes it very clear that judges cannot block these applications because those suspensions do not fulfill their objectives.”
Although the bill would shield messaging apps from being blocked in the future, other elements of the proposal may be cause for concern. Critics of the bill state that it would make it even easier for judges to shut down websites and would further restrict free speech in the country.
The proposal still has a long way to go before becoming a law. It must make its way through several committees before being voted on by both houses of congress. Even if it does eventually become a law, it’s possible the bill will undergo changes during that process. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recently called on Brazilians to gather outside Congress and demand WhatsApp never be blocked in the country again. This may pressure legislators to pass the bill if there is a large turnout.
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