A Judge Shut Down WhatsApp For 100 Million People

A judge has shut down WhatApp for three days in Brazil, in an attempt to gain access to data from the messaging service.

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The ruling was made by the judge on April 26th, but only became public yesterday when mobile service providers in the country were forced to block the service. The Intercept reports that users of WhatsApp in Brazil have been unable to send and receive messages since 2pm local time on Monday afternoon. The ban is supposed to last for 72 hours, and service providers will apparently be fined $142,000 per day if they don’t adhere to the ruling. Brazil has a population of 200 million, of which 100 million are WhatsApp users.

Details of the case that’s brought about the ban are under wraps, but the New York Times reports that it relates to organized crime and drug trafficking. What is known is that the judge is seeking data from WhatsApp, which the company is refusing to—or perhaps can’t, if it’s encrypted—hand over. For its part, WhatsApp told the Times that it has helped to the “full extent of [its] ability with local courts.”

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The decision to block WhatsApp as a kind of punishment for not handing over data is worrying—but it’s not the first time that Brazil has tried it. Last year, a judge issued a 48-hour WhatsApp ban as part of another court case. An appeal overturned that decision, claiming that the disruption it caused wasn’t reasonable, but only after the service had suffered an outage for a couple of hours.

With WhatsApp now providing end-to-end encryption on all of its messaging, it has made itself unable to hand over its users’ communications to authorities. As more criminal cases come to court where messages are encrypted in this way, we can probably expect similar legal wrangling to occur all around the world.

Update 5:05 pm: A different judge has reversed the ban after less than 24 hours.

[NYT, The Intercept]

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Contributing Editor at Gizmodo. An ex-engineer writing about science and technology.

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DISCUSSION

birdinahat2
Bird in a hat

As a Brazilian, I’m amazed how a judge in some god-forsaken town, with his divine powers, can shut down a service used country-wide, by regular users and also by companies.

I'm ashamed that Brazil has hit world news because the people responsible for our justice system have no clue how end-to-end cryptography works, and how these same people take arbitrary decisions just because they can.