Brazil Blocks WhatsApp for 72 Hours, 100 Million Users Affected [Updated]

whatsappA Brazilian judge has ordered cellphone carriers to block access to WhatsApp for 72 hours throughout the Latin American country, after the Facebook-owned company refused to hand over information requested in a drug trafficking investigation (via Reuters).

As reported last month, the instant messenger service recently enabled full end-to-end encryption, making all forms of communication sent within the app inaccessible to outside parties as well as the service operator.

Yesterday's decision by the judge applies to the five main wireless operators in Brazil and affects more than 100 million WhatsApp users in the country, where cellphone charges are relatively high.

This is not the first time the service has been the target of a blocking order. In December of last month, mobile providers in Brazil were ordered to block WhatsApp for 48 hours due to the service's failure to cooperate with criminal court orders in July and August 2015. However, the following morning, an appeal's court judge ordered that the ban be lifted for being an unreasonable response, recommending that the company be fined instead.

In March of this year, Facebook vice-president for Latin America Diego Dzodan was arrested in Brazil for not cooperating with an investigation in which WhatsApp conversations were requested, but was released the next day after the Court of Appeal held that the arrest was disproportionate. The judge who ordered WhatsApp's shutdown on Monday is the same one who ordered Dzodan's arrest.

Elsewhere last month, members of UK prime minister David Cameron's inner circle campaigning to remain in the European Union were accused of using WhatsApp to discuss tactics and avoid parliamentary referendum decisions from being subject to Freedom of Information requests. Only last year, Cameron proposed to ban online messaging software that offers end-to-end encryption which could allegedly allow suspected terrorists a safe means of communication.

WhatsApp is not the only messaging service that provides end-to-end encryption; Threema, Wickr, Signal, Silent Phone, and Cryptocat also provide encryption by default. Apple's iMessage also provides encryption, but does not display key fingerprints for verification. Apple's own legal issues over encryption came when the FBI attempted to compel the company to unlock San Bernardino terror suspect Farook Syed's iPhone, before the Justice Department announced it had found an alternate method to gain access to the iPhone in question and dropped the lawsuit.

While WhatsApp has been available as a smartphone app since January 2010, users have only been able to access their accounts on a computer since last year when a web browser client for the service was introduced. Last week, screenshots posted by WABetaInfo on Twitter appeared to show translation requests made by the WhatsApp team indicating that a dedicated OS X client is in the works. WhatsApp is also reportedly set to receive a video calling feature in the near future.

Acquired by Facebook in February 2014, WhatsApp is one of the most popular mobile apps worldwide. According to Statista statistics portal, in February the service recorded more than 1 billion active users worldwide, up from over 700 million in January 2015.

WhatsApp Messenger is a free download for iPhone on the App Store. [Direct Link]

Update 11:58 AM: A second judge has overturned the suspension, according to Reuters.

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49 months ago
How about regulating and decriminalising all drugs and saving 30-50 billion per year on an endless ineffective drug war and then use some of that money to treat drug addicts like what they actually are: mostly sick people. Portugal legalised drugs 15 years ago and this approach now has their drug addict population at roughly half what it was in 2001. And even more importantly, drug violence has gone way down. And how about getting private entities out of the prison business while you're at it. The mere thought of privately run prisons as businesses creeps me the hell out.
Rating: 17 Votes
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49 months ago
Nice job Brazil! I'm sure shutting down the app really showed the criminals who is boss. How else could they ever communicate? Mission Accomplished! Drugs are no longer a problem. :rolleyes:
Rating: 4 Votes
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49 months ago
As if the Brazilian government couldn't get any less popular...
Rating: 4 Votes
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49 months ago

In March of this year, Facebook vice-president for Latin America Diego Dzodan was arrested in Brazil for not cooperating with an investigation in which WhatsApp conversations were requested, but was released the next day after the Court of Appeal held that the arrest was disproportionate. The judge who ordered WhatsApp's shutdown on Monday is the same one who ordered Dzodan's arrest.


Hmm, unsure if this is the right judge to handle cases involving WhatsApp...

I understand working to limit drug trafficking is an important job and all since bad things tend to follow in its footsteps. But I doubt punishing 100 million people is proportionate to this crime either. That has to be quite some drugs they are hunting. Or maybe they just got angry.
Rating: 4 Votes
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49 months ago

Hmm, unsure if this is the right judge to handle cases involving WhatsApp...

I understand working to limit drug trafficking is an important job and all since bad things tend to follow in its footsteps. But I doubt punishing 100 million people is proportionate to this crime either. That has to be quite some drugs they are hunting. Or maybe they just got angry.

It's really just to create pressure methinks.

If this was about a balanced punishment, they wouldn't let legit users take the toll so directly.

As a sidenote, maybe it's time to end prohibition of any drugs and come clean (pun not intended) on the lies that have been told for decades.
There's enough evidence by now that merely banning any kind of drug doesn't help anyone but organized crime.

Of course we would continue to see similarly stupid decisions over services like WhatsApp for other cases of crime prevention, but it's just something that reminded me how stupid the approach of trying keep a society drug-free is, not least because it fails hard every damn time and what you try to prevent only becomes a deeper problem spawning other crimes around it where third parties ACTUALLY ARE directly harmed as a result.

Common sense is rare in politics these days though, so although the process already started, it's going to be a while until we see betterment.

Until some God damn day everyone forgets about anything again, and tries to throw back society again.
Rinse and repeat.

Glassed Silver:mac
Rating: 3 Votes
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49 months ago
"In December of last month." LOL, nice editing you have there. :-)
Rating: 3 Votes
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49 months ago
Hm. I think common sense is all there is. Unfortunately common sense is so subjective, ask a bioethicist, a neurologist, a farmer from the 1700s, an aerospace engineer, a philosopher, a physicist, and Sarah Palin for some common sense wisdom, you get apparent nonsense with no commonality at all.

Unfortunately for us, our outdated political system was designed around the common sense populism of a homogenous agrarian culture of stubborn european 1700s farmers, and doesn't encourage or reward deeper analytical thought or rational decision making, which might lead to greater insight and understanding and more constructive action.

I can't see how we'll get anything but more and increasing chaos.
Rating: 2 Votes
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49 months ago
This is an example of where we may be going in the US with the FBI asking Apple for iPhone back doors. If Apple refuses we have the possibility of a judge ordering the shutdown of services. Or Apple agrees and we all switch to whatsapp. And then we start the process all over again. The authorities (not they are an authority of a thing these days) need to learn that this is not the way to go about it. It waste public time and money, inconveniences everyone, yet achieves nothing.
Rating: 2 Votes
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49 months ago

It amazes me all the stuff I see/hear about WhatsApp, yet I don't know one person who actually uses it. Where are these one billion people?

Here:

http://www.businessinsider.com/whatsapp-chart-global-market-app-annie-2014-2

In Europe it's hard to find a young person that doesn't use Whatsapp.
Rating: 2 Votes
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49 months ago

Can someone more technically minded than I explain this sentence:

"Apple's iMessage also provides encryption, but does not display key fingerprints for verification."

It means that Apple (who is maintaining the key repository for iMessage) could in theory surreptitiously swap out your keys because you have no way to verify them. This would allow them to insert themselves as a middleman and circumvent the end-to-end encryption (perhaps because they have received an order from a government authority). See here for a longer explanation:

https://www.wired.com/2015/09/apple-fighting-privacy-imessage-still-problems/
Rating: 1 Votes
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