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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.