Messaging Service WhatsApp Temporarily Shut Down in Brazil

As the result of a court order, Facebook-owned WhatsApp was shut down in Brazil yesterday. In an effort to obtain user data for a criminal investigation involving drug trafficking, Judge Marcel Maia Montalvão ordered telecoms to suspend the popular messaging service for 72 hours throughout Brazil. In March, Judge Montalvão ordered the arrest of Facebook exec Diego Dzodan, who was briefly taken into custody for refusing to turn over WhatsApp data (a higher court ordered the release of Dzodan after one night). WhatsApp says it has cooperated to the “full extent of [its] ability with local courts.”

“This decision punishes more than 100 million Brazilians who rely on our services,” said a WhatsApp spokesman of the shutdown.

This is the second such Brazilian ban for WhatsApp in recent months. A judge in São Paulo ordered telecoms in December to block the service for 48 hours after failure to comply with eavesdropping requests by law enforcement regarding another drug case. However, an appeals court quickly overturned the ruling.

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This time, the case “involves an organized crime and drug trafficking investigation in the court in Lagarto, in the northeastern state of Sergipe,” reports The New York Times. “The court has been seeking data from WhatsApp to aid in the investigation.”

WhatsApp’s problems are reminiscent of the recent standoff between Apple and the U.S. government, and the subsequent privacy vs. security debate that unfolded, but was tabled for the time being after the FBI discovered an alternative method to crack the iPhone.

As law enforcement and tech companies continue to spar over digital data in the U.S., including debates over a new draft of an encryption bill in Washington, “concern is growing in Brazil that its Congress may pass laws that would weaken digital privacy,” notes NYT. “One measure calls for Internet companies to remove content deemed critical of politicians within 48 hours, while another calls for imprisonment for violating an Internet’s site’s terms of use.”