Brazil has lifted its ban on WhatsApp

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Brazil court lifts suspension of Facebook’s WhatsApp service.

A Brazilian judge on Thursday ordered the lifting of a 48-hour suspension of the services in Brazil of Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) WhatsApp phone-messaging application, overturning an order from a lower court.It wasn’t long ago that Brazil was trumpeting its bona fides on electronic surveillance, slamming the National Security Agency’s spying programs as a “grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties” in a 2013 speech to the United Nations.

The interruption of WhatsApp’s text message and Internet telephone service caused outrage in Latin America’s largest country, where the company estimates it has 100 million personal users, and led to angry exchanges on the floor of Congress. Now, though, Brazil is finding itself in an awkward position as it moved to block an immensely popular messaging app within its own borders for 48 hours. A judge in the commercial capital Sao Paulo had ordered the suspension of WhatsApp’s services from midnight on Wednesday (0200 GMT Thursday) after the California-based company, despite a fine, failed to comply with two judicial rulings to share information in a criminal case. “Considering the constitutional principles, it does not look reasonable that millions of users be affected as a result of the company’s inertia to provide information,” Judge Xavier de Souza from the 11th criminal court of Sao Paulo said in a ruling, recommending a higher fine be imposed on WhatsApp.

Prosecutors demanded that the service, WhatsApp, be shut off for its 100 million Brazilian customers after the company did not comply with a secret order for user data. (That ban was soon reversed by a higher court, but the damage was done.) Law enforcement had been struggling with WhatsApp for months, according to the BBC, trying to get access to a drug suspect’s messages on the Facebook-owned service. Among those who made critical comments, soon after the app was blocked, were Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who posted “This is a sad day for Brazil” on his Facebook page. The suspension appeared to affect WhatsApp users outside Brazil’s borders, as hundreds of in Chile and Argentina took to social media on Thursday to complain that the messaging system was also interrupted in the two southern cone countries. In response, Brazil announced the construction of a $185 million fiber optic pipeline that would carry Internet data to and from Portugal, bypassing the United States and reducing the chances of interception by U.S. authorities.

Chilean telecom provider VTR, owned by Liberty Global Inc (LBTYA.O), said it had re-established service to WhatsApp for its clients by using an “alternative international link.” Earlier it said that difficulty in accessing the app “originated outside of Chile,” without giving details. (Additional reporting by Silvio Cascione in Brasilia, Marcelo Teixeira in Sao Paulo and Rosalba O’Brien in Santiago; Editing by Leslie Adler, Dominic Evans and Lisa Von Ahn) But Brazil’s efforts to set an example may be undone by its attempt to restrict WhatsApp — particularly in light of some of President Dilma Rousseff’s previous vows. “My government will do everything within its reach to defend the human rights of all Brazilians,” Rousseff said in her 2013 U.N. speech, “and to protect the fruits borne from the ingenuity of our workers and our companies.” That last bit may hold a clue to explaining Brazil’s actions. Others have moved to adopt Telegram, an alternative messaging service that also has been in the news lately as a communications conduit for the Islamic State militant group. The swiftness with which many Brazilians switched services should be instructive for U.S. policymakers who may be tempted to view crime-fighting and counterterrorism as a game of Whac-a-Mole. When a government singles out one communications technology for punishment, it’s easy for the real targets — criminal suspects — to shift to other services, circumventing the sanctions.

But what constitutes “lawful,” and when a court should approve the requests, and under what circumstances, are questions that U.S. policymakers have been grappling with for years.

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