Brazil: What’s App In Brazil

Tristan Kuehn - 3A Systems
Posted on: May 19, 2016

Back on Monday, May 2, Brazilians were denied access to popular messaging app WhatsApp for about 24 hours. A Brazilian judge ordered the country’s main wireless operators to block access to the service for 72 hours for reasons that were not made public, but the block was cancelled by another judge after WhatsApp appealed the original decision.

WhatsApp claims that more than 100 million Brazilians use the service, and the outage spurred an outcry on social media such as Twitter. WhatsApp characterized the outage as a punishment of the millions of users who “depend on [WhatsApp] to communicate”.

This outage is one of a series of dramatic instances of a rocky relationship between WhatsApp and the government of Brazil. In December, a similar ruling forced a 48 hour ban, which was ended by after a second judge deemed it unreasonable. In March, the regional vice-president of Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, was jailed after the company failed to provide information as part of a criminal investigation.

Encryption features, which prevent WhatsApp from viewing private conversations and information about its users, are the apparent reason for Brazil’s interventions in WhatsApps service. While information about WhatsApp conversations, including messages themselves, might be related to a criminal investigation, WhatsApp’s encryption prevents the company from accessing such information. This causes conflict with Brazilian law enforcement, which insists that the company should be able to provide relevant information on request.

The outage represents just one more incident in the ongoing conflict between governments and private companies and activist groups over encryption. Governments claim that encryption has the potential to protect criminals and impeded criminal investigations, while companies and activists claim that encryption serves as an important protector of civil liberties.

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