Facebook vice-president for Latin America Diego Dzodan was arrested and quickly released on charges of not complying with Brazilian law enforcement’s requests to access encrypted WhatsApp messages between drug traffickers. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) Judge Ruy Pinheiro said that Dzodan’s arrest constituted “unlawful coercion.”
“We are disappointed with the extreme and disproportionate measure of having a Facebook executive escorted to a police station in connection with a case involving WhatsApp, which operates separately from Facebook,” Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, said in a statement. In a separate statement, WhatsApp said it is literally unable to access the requested messages. Brazil has suspended use of WhatsApp before, for similar reasons, though WhatsApp insisted then, as it is now, that it does not store messages between users on its servers. Reportedly, some 90 percent of Brazilians use WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is generally known as one of the most secure messaging apps, and began implementing end-to-end encryption of messages in late 2014, though a December Re/code report said it had not finished rolling that out to all users. A request for comment to WhatsApp regarding encryption implementation was not returned by press time.
Brazil’s conservative Congress, pushed by the telecoms industry (which has lost millions of customers to WhatsApp), has been pushing laws that would compromise net neutrality, require companies like Google and Facebook to store personal information of users that could be easily accessed by the police, and allow politicians to censor social-media posts, among other initiatives.