A judge in Brazil has ordered the shut down of Whatsapp. This is the third Whatsapp shutdown in the most populous country in South America. Which means over 100 million active users of Whatsapp, which is about 50% of the population woke up to find they could no longer send messages through whatsapp for the next three days.
This order was actually made on the 26th of last month. But it only became public last month when Telecoms companies were forced to comply or pay a fine of $142,000 per day if they refuse. One would think such a big ruling was handed out by a major court in a major case. But the reality is, it was a small town Judge that made the ruling that affected millions of innocent people who had no idea about the case. The notoriety for the whatsapp shut this time around belongs to Judge Marcel Maia Montalvao based in a small town in the state of Sergipe.
There is a bit of history here between the judge and Facebook, the owners of Whatsapp. The same judge had ordered the arrest of Facebook’s Vice President in charge of Latin America, Diego Dzodan. The arrest warrant was issued because Facebook refused to refused to comply with the orders of the court to cooperate with the authorities on drug trafficking and criminal investigations. Dzodan tired to explain that Whatsapp’s recent end-to-end encryption made it impossible to access the information the judge wanted. He was in jailed for a day after the Judge’s order was overturned on appeal.
Apparently, the current ban is a fallout from that case.
History of Whatsapp shutdown in Brazil.
This is not the first time for this sort of thing to occur in Brazil. A similar Whatsapp shutdown was effected for a few hours last December. The December case, handled by a judge in the City of Sao Paulo, was a bit bizarre because the Whatsapp shutdown occurred while the order was being appealed at a higher court. The appeal was successful but already, a few hours harm had being done.
However the very first Whatsapp shutdown took place in February last year. Like the December case, nobody knew exactly why Judge Luiz de Moura Correia of the state of Piaui, handed down the order. But both cases had the same denominator: Whatsapp’s refusal to divulge users data to security operatives.
The Whatsapp shutdown in Brazil is likely the beginning of a war between softwares like Whatsapp and security agencies around the world. Since the Apple face-off with the FBI, online security has become an issue. A new digital race is now on between tech firms to see who can provide the most secured apps to users. Whatsapp end-to-end encryption was just a facet of the race. In theory it meant nobody can read or spy on messages exchanged between parties. The problem now for security agencies is how to tract or spy on criminals using such apps.
On the other hand, private citizens going about their legit business worry that without encryption, invasion of privacy becomes an all too real problem. They welcome encryption. But they also hate criminals and law breakers using these apps to perpetuate their evil deeds. What is needed is to find a middle ground. Or else, we would continue to hear instances of ignorant judges in some remote province handing out orders that affects millions of people.
photo credit: brecorder.com