Oh Brazil, you magnificent country of beautiful landscapes, sexy women, excellent football players, and silly judges and judicial system. For the third time since 2015, a Brazilian state judge has ordered a complete shut down on WhatsApp by forcing operators to block the service nationwide for 72 hours, and thus killing the main means of communication of 91% of the country's mobile users.
The main question is why. Due to legal secrecy in the country, the details aren't released, but it appears that this isn't related to the first two bans in February of 2015 (issued by judge Luiz de Moura Correia from the state of Piauí) and December of 2015 (issued by a São Paulo judge). This time, it's judge Marcel Maia Montalvão, from a small town in the Sergipe state, the same judge who ordered the arrest of Facebook's vice president for Latin America, Diego Dzodan, over failure to comply with judicial orders in a drug trafficking case; an order that was later overturned by appellate court.
It seems that this ban today is stemming from this same case and failure from the mobile operators to comply will result in a daily fine of 500,000 BRL (approx $142771). So as you can guess, all operators have complied and blocked over 100 Million Brazilian mobile users from accessing WhatsApp, thus shutting down one of the biggest user bases for the company (out of its 1 billion worldwide). WhatsApp is logically "disappointed at the decision" but there's nothing that it can do beside sit down and twiddle its thumbs until the 72 hours are over.
WhatsApp, and any service provider that prides itself on protecting users through end-to-end encryption, is completely vulnerable to such drastic and idiotic measures taken by single judges who don't really understand the concept of encryption — or don't want to. How can a company provide information it doesn't have in the first place, regardless of the importance and criticality of the case it's involved in? Would you shut down the postal office for failure to provide the court with a package that it merely delivered from person A to person B several months ago? No. I realize this isn't exactly the same situation, but it's darn close and the only reason we're having this debate in the first place is because technology has made the legal system think it can have access to all of your information regardless of whether or not it's possible or if it has the right to in the first place.
And what does the ban really do except punish millions of users who have nothing to do with the case? It's not like WhatsApp is going to magically conjure up discussions and files that it doesn't have and never had, or change its policy overnight to allow Brazilian judges to open up conversations and see everything that was shared between two or more parties. So what are these judges hoping to achieve with this ban? I'm stumped.
Privacy debates aside, this sets precedence for all judges in the country and gives them free rein to ban or shut down any service with a simple order, regardless of the damage it would cause innocent people and businesses who rely on that service for their everyday lives. It's also a threat against the freedom of communication of the country's mobile users. It remains to be seen whether like last time, this ban gets lifted soon or whether it stands for the duration of the order.
Image Credit: HackRead