Yesterday Brazil made headlines by once again blocking the function of mega-popular SMS replacement service WhatsApp for 72 hours. The reasons were... complicated. Apparently. We don't actually know the reason - the purpose of the ruling has been sealed by the court in the state of Sergipe which issued it. But fear not, Brazilian WhatsApp users: you now have access to the service once again, thanks to some quick work on the part of WhatsApp and the ruling of an appeals court.
The Sergipe judge had ordered all five of Brazil's major mobile carriers to block access to WhatsApp services or face huge fines, effectively shutting it down for 100 million Brazilian users. (Work-arounds, like using a proxy or WhatsApp's web service, were probably possible.) The appeals court reversed the decision after approximately 24 hours, giving users two days of access they might otherwise have missed out on. The legal ruling is the second in five months against WhatsApp in Brazil: the last time was in December, a 48-hour ban for failure to comply with criminal investigations. It was also quickly lifted on appeal. Earlier this year a Facebook vice president was arrested in Brazil for failure to cooperate with criminal investigations in relation to WhatsApp chat logs - again, he was released the next day on appeal. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014.
On the one hand, it's good that the Brazilian appeals courts continue to recognize the over-reach of individual judges and rulings, avoiding disturbing precedents that could see services shut down nationwide at basically any moment. On the other, it's possible that the whole sordid business is only inspiring lawmakers and the criminal justice system to create more subtle, behind-the-scenes means to access private data, as already exists in the US and many other countries. Brazilians can expect these legal scuffles to continue for some time.