Update, May 4: An appellate judge lifted the block on Whatsapp, roughly 24 hours after into the measure.
Original post, May 3: The wildly popular messaging service WhatsApp has been blocked in Brazil.
The 72-hour suspension was ordered yesterday by a Brazilian judge, after WhatsApp said it couldn’t comply with court orders to hand over chat transcripts related to a drug investigation.
Judge Marcel Montalvo ordered telecommunication providers to block WhatsApp traffic starting 2PM local time on Monday, May 2.
This isn’t the first time Facebook-owned WhatsApp is blocked in Brazil, where over 100 million people use it regularly. Back in December, a similar block was instituted after WhatsApp failed to comply with court orders in another case. A higher court overturned the initial decision and the ban was lifted after 12 hours. The suspension caused outrage in Brazil, where nine out of every ten phone users use WhatsApp.
Jan Koum, the founder and CEO of WhatsApp, claims that the 72-hour suspension is retribution to WhatsApp’s decision to encrypt all traffic.
Yet again millions of innocent Brazilians are being punished because a court wants WhatsApp to turn over information we repeatedly said we don’t have. Not only do we encrypt messages end-to-end on WhatsApp to keep people’s information safe and secure, we also don’t keep your chat history on our servers. When you send an end-to-end encrypted message, no one else can read it – not even us. While we are working to get WhatsApp back up and running as soon as possible, we have no intention of compromising the security of our billion users around the world.
WhatsApp announced it completed the transition to full encryption last month.
Encryption is a huge contention point between technology companies and authorities worldwide. Apple brought the issue into the spotlight when it refused to honor FBI’s requests to hack one of its own device, but WhatsApp is also reportedly engaged in a standoff with the US government over its encryption practices.
Back in March, the same judge who ordered the current WhatsApp block had Facebook’s vice president for Latin America arrested over the company’s refusal to coerce WhatsApp into cooperating with law enforcement. The executive was released after a day in jail.
WhatsApp is likely going to appeal yesterday’s ruling and it’s possible that a higher court will find that blocking the service for tens of millions of users is excessive. But it’s clear that one side will have to surrender in this silent war, sooner or later.