Brazil Shuts Down WhatsApp For 72 Hours, For The Second Time In Less Than Six Months

Brazilian WhatsApp users will not be able to use the app after a judge declared that wireless phone carriers were to block access. This, according to Newsweek, is going to affect over 100 million people in Brazil who use WhatsApp, preventing them from using the instant-messaging app for 72 hours. This is apparently the second time this has happened in less than six months.

This temporary WhatsApp ban, according to a statement released by the company, “punishes more than 100 million users who depend upon us to communicate themselves, run their business and more, just to force us hand over information that we don’t have.” WhatsApp received a court order, in which they were asked to hand over valuable data that was tied to a criminal investigation. The company refused to do so, resulting in Judge Marcel Montalvo to order that the WhatsApp service be blocked, starting Monday afternoon, for 72 hours.

“Our legal and safety teams work hard to respond to legitimate law enforcement requests while fulfilling our responsibility to protect people’s privacy and security,” says WhatsApp, who have said more than once that the information they have been asked to hand over is information they do not have. This isn’t the first time WhatsApp and Brazil have clashed over a criminal investigation.

In December 2015, Brazil and WhatsApp found themselves in a very similar situation, where the company was not complying with a criminal investigation, leading to the temporary shutdown of the Facebook-owned app. Facebook vice president Diego Dzodan was arrested in March, after he failed to turnover information from a WhatsApp messaging account. A judge had made a request for information that was tied to a drug trafficking investigation.

“We are disappointed that law enforcement took this extreme step,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said at the time. “WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even made a statement stating how shocked he was that their efforts to protect people’s private information would result in so many Brazilians being denied access to WhatsApp, even if only temporarily.

This all seems to be part of a much larger issue, one that questions whether or not law enforcement officials should be able to gain access to confidential data from tech companies. Apple received a court order to help the FBI in their investigation to unlock an iPhone used by one of the alleged San Bernardino terrorists. Apple was concerned about what precedent would be set if they were to comply with such a demand.

“The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe,” Apple’s chief executive Timothy Cook wrote in a letter.

WhatsApp has a user base of one billion all over the world and it is currently the most popular messaging app globally. In 2011, WhatsApp user accounts were suddenly vulnerable to session hijacking and packet analysis, after a security hole was discovered. At the time, their communications were not encrypted, which did mean that they were more vulnerable to hackers intercepting the messages and reading them.

On January 6, 2012, WhatsApp was again the victim of cyber hacking, when a website was created that would allow anyone to change the status of a WhatsApp user, provided that they had the phone number. Three days later, WhatsApp announced that they dealt with the problem and resolved the issue, when they blocked the website’s IP address.

Many Brazilians will have their means of communication cut off this week, for at least three days. If SindiTelebrasil, Brazil’s phone-company association, had refused to cut off service, they would have received a fine of 500,000 reais ($143,000) a day.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]