For the third time in the last eight months, a Brazilian judge has ordered wireless service providers to block WhatsApp. The encrypted messaging app is once again being targeted because it will not turn over message data requested by police. Previous blocking orders that were issued had set time limits, one was 48 hours and the other 72, but the latest order was supposed to stay in place until WhatsApp turned over the requested data.
In addition to blocking the messaging app multiple times, judges in Brazil have also targeted Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company. In March, a Facebook executive was arrested, although he was released in under 24 hours. Earlier this month, Facebook’s accounts in the country were frozen. Both of the previous blocking orders were quickly overturned on appeal, as was the order to arrest a Facebook employee, but this hasn’t deterred judges from continuing to target the companies with punitive measures. Now the country’s highest court has intervened. Within hours of the block being put into place, the Brazilian Supreme Court overturned the block.
After the most recent block was put into place, Brazil’s attorney general office reiterated its position that the judges who issued the blocking orders are misinterpreting a 2014 law which lays out a legal framework for the Internet. WhatsApp has consistently stated that it cannot turn over message data because it does not store such data. Even if the company decided to begin storing the data, all the messages are encrypted and WhatsApp itself has no way of decrypting them, rendering the data useless to investigators.
The case leading to the block is confidential and the judge will not publicly reveal what crime is being investigated. Some of the previous investigations that caused trouble for WhatsApp were related to drug trafficking and smuggling, but it’s not clear if this one is as well.
Will the Supreme Court’s ruling deter low-level judges from blocking WhatsApp again? Leave your comments below.