Whatsapp Blocked In Brazil Ahead Of 2016 Rio Olympic Games For Protecting User Privacy

Foreign and Brazilian Whatsapp users alike attending the 2016 Rio Olympic Games may find themselves unable to access the popular instant messaging service after it was blocked by a judge on Tuesday.

After Whatsapp has repeatedly been unable to hand over its users’ messages to police, one particular case has caused Judge Daniela Barbosa Assunção de Souza to shut down the service entirely. What exactly that investigation entails won’t, however, be released to the public. At least, that is, until the communications in question have been passed on to authorities, Reuters reported.

The burden of this judicial order actually falls on Brazil’s mobile carriers and not Whatsapp itself. The big five carriers include Telefonica, Oi, América Móvil’s Claro, TIM, and Nextel, and they must cut off the use of the app across their networks or face a daily fine of up to 50,000 reais (US$15,265).

Whatsapp CEO Jan Koum has taken to Facebook to condemn the decision and confirm that the company’s vision will remain the same on the issue of its users’ privacy.

“In recent months, people from all across Brazil have rejected judicial blocks of services like WhatsApp. Indiscriminate steps like these threaten people’s ability to communicate, to run their businesses, and to live their lives. As we’ve said in the past, we cannot share information we don’t have access to. We hope to see this block lifted as soon as possible.”

While scant information is available about the block, some clues may be found from the two other occasions that Whatsapp was banned in Brazil during the past year. Both of the previous cases dealt with the use of end-to-end encryption, a system of communication that does not allow any third party access to the conversations between two individuals.

Facebook, the current owner of the app, has faced legal action in several countries for being unable to produce such data when called upon to do so by investigators. As even Whatsapp is not privy to the data sent between its users, it is impossible for it to cooperate with such orders. When the last such ruling in Brazil came down in May, The Intercept noted that the country had become a symbolic battleground for digital rights.

“In a country with turbulent political conflicts and a highly engaged online population, the debate over internet freedom has become very prominent. Along with Germany, the Brazilian government, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, was the most vocal in denouncing the U.S. for excessive NSA surveillance… In 2014, the government enacted what it claimed was a law to protect internet freedom, ‘Marco Civil da Internet,’ that did provide some privacy protections but also granted new surveillance powers to the government. Just last month, the government demanded, and received, a new draconian anti-terrorism law that provided it with extreme new law enforcement powers.”

As one of the world’s major population centers, Brazil accounts for a hefty portion of Whatsapp’s global users. Nearly 10 percent of the app’s users are Brazilian with a total of about 100 million people communicating on the app in the Olympic host country.

Brazil has faced waves of doubt internationally that the troubled nation would be able to rise to the challenge of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games. With a president facing impeachment and an economy in crisis, some say that the country is too unstable domestically to properly host Rio’s upcoming global sporting event. Several athletes, including the world’s number one men’s golfer, have opted out of the competition.

Do you think Whatsapp will still be blocked in Brazil when the 2016 Rio Olympic Games begin?

[Photo via Andre Penner/AP Images]