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Update: A Facebook executive, Diego Dzodan, was released after spending nearly a full day in prison. An appeals court overturned the arrest order issued by the lower court. Original story below.

Diego Dzodan, Facebook’s vice president for Latin America, has been arrested in São Paulo, Brazil, because the company allegedly disobeyed a court order to assist law enforcement in a drug trafficking investigation. The police were seeking messages from the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, which is a subsidiary of Facebook.

The arrest was ordered by a judge in the state of Sergipe. According to court officials, the judge only resorted to an arrest after fining the company $250,000 to compel cooperation in the drug trafficking investigation. Federal police in São Paulo stated that Dzodan is being held for questioning. The investigation is shrouded in secrecy and police have revealed very few details about the case. Law enforcement claimed that revealing too much information could compromise the investigation.

Brazil passed a law in 2014 which left the lower courts with vast discretionary powers in cases like this, according to legal expert Ronaldo Lemos. Lemos stated, “The court of appeals tends to be more sensitive in these cases, but the lower courts are still tough, as today’s decision shows,” which suggest that Facebook may have some luck in appealing to a higher court.

WhatsApp stated their disappointment at the arrest, and indicated that due to the encrypted nature of the service the company is unable to provide the requested information. “We cooperated to the full extent of our ability in this case and while we respect the important job of law enforcement, we strongly disagree with its decision,” the company stated. Facebook issued its own statement which called the arrest “extreme and disproportionate,” and noted that WhatsApp is operationally distinct from Facebook.

The company has had legal issues in the country in the past. In December of last year, WhatsApp was briefly blocked in Brazil for failing to cooperate with an investigation. As in this case, that investigation was also secretive, with very few details being revealed to the public.

Is it right for Brazil to arrest a Facebook executive in this case? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.



  • Reptile

    Brazil comunications service is runned by a cartel, there are like 4 companies, which 3 are part of the same parent company as of today, and they absolutely hate WhatsApp, because since it became a thing here people stopped using SMS system and even voice call, giving them a loss in revenue, they really consider WhatsApp to be a “threat” to them (source: http://goo.gl/t5Wxwo ,it is on portuguese, sorry).
    Some people I know even received messages alerting that people needed to pay an extra fee to use WhatsApp, because it “wasn’t included in their current plan”.
    I would not be surprised if this stunt was in reality those shitty companies trying to intimidate WhatsApp out of here. It is obvious that WhatsApp is a threat to them, it offers a better service and cheaper.

    Same thing with Uber, there is a lot of tension between taxists and Uber users here because the taxist syndicate (more like a mafia) want it banned instead of offering a better service, they all claim that “uber doesn’t pay taxes” and whatever, when in reality taxists get benefits as reduction on taxes over cars, while Uber users have to pay it all. So this excuse is ridiculous, they are affraid of competition, they are affraid that people switch their shitty service because someone is offering something better and cheaper.

  • eltonBorges

    Yeah, this is a problem. WhatsApp is a huge company, they knew of the law in Brazil so this is no surprise to them. It’s not that different from what companies like Google do with their clients on the US. The thing is, here they didn’t “open the gates”, which is correct, but the law in this country said this could be a consequence. Now, this is more a judge abusing his power. Something that is not uncommon unfortunately.

  • Zepherdog

    Same thing is happening in Mexico regarding Uber, but the Whatsapp situation is considerably different, as it, along with facebook and twitter are offered “for free” with data plans. I’m not entirely sure what the catch is but it’s been like that for a couple years now.

  • DukeMagus

    the “law” in question is in a grey zone with few things actually defined. this is the action of an arrogant judge trying to show how much influence he has.

  • DukeMagus

    In Brazil there were taxi drivers lynching Uber drivers and destroying their cars…

    And some of they haven’t even lost their taxi license.

  • eltonBorges

    Was this an example of a judge abusing his power? Absolutely. The way the case was conducted was a shame to the Brazilian justice system, well, another one. But the law allows this to happen. And I believe the confusion might come from the fact that Facebook do register conversations, but WhatsApp does not.

    Anyway, this might force some changes to be made on the legislation. But, there are cases when the information on Whatsapp can put someone in jail: http://www.arabianbusiness.com/man-jailed-for-insulting-uae-on-whatsapp-623405.html So, it could be used, but not in the way the judge wanted.

  • Reptile

    Isn’t it easier to aprehend the suspect’s phone and roll up on all the messages? Oh wait no, they must punish millions of users by blocking the app, they must harass the vice-president by arresting him. The suspects must be untouchable because, oh poor drug dealer, victim of society blah blah blah.

    This law is fucking lame, “Internet Civil Mar(x)k” is lame, it punishes users / innocent people / companies while criminals hoam free and do as they please, like most of our laws.

  • Zepherdog

    Same here, same here. They even beat up people and burn their cars just because the cab drivers *suspect* they may be Uber.

  • eltonBorges

    But that is the thing, It’s not the Internet Civil Mark fault. it’s the judge. The law allows something like this, but it’s up to the judge to decide what should be done. And frankly, look at the news, every government is trying to get their hands on internet communications. France is trying to sue any company that don’t allow governments to spay on every citzen. USA’s NSA was convincing HDD companies to add Spywares on their products. Could the law be better, yeah, and it might improve in time, or not. But this whole case is just another example of judges abusing their powers. Another thing that is common, everywhere, unfortunately.