Brazil Arrests Facebook Executive As WhatsApp Row Deepens

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Facebook brands Brazilian decision to jail executive as “extreme and disproportionate”

Facebook has called the arrest in Brazil of its vice president for Latin America “extreme and disproportionate” in what is the latest incident in a bitter dispute between the company and authorities in the South American country, who want data from WhatsApp for a criminal investigation.

Diego Dzodan was detained by Brazilian Federal police in Sao Paulo after a judge ordered his detention and follows a court order for WhatsApp to provide access to the messages of an alleged gang member to assist with a drug-trafficking investigation.

According to Reuters, police are withholding further information about the nature of their request, as it could compromise the ongoing criminal investigation.

Executive Arrest


The messaging service is reported to be the most widely used application in Brazil, with about 93 million users. Indeed approximately 93 percent of young people in the country say they use it in order to combat high mobile price plans. It should be noted that WhatsApp have no direct presence in Brazil, as it is owned by Facebook which paid $19 billion (£11.4bn) to acquire the company back in February 2014.

Facebook however does have a sales office in Brazil, but it is understood that no one in that office has access to WhatsApp user information or has authority to make decisions on behalf of WhatsApp.

And getting access to the messages may be technically impossible anyway, as WhatsApp implemented end-to-end encryption in November 2014, that prevents it from monitoring messages that travel across its network.

“We’re disappointed with the extreme and disproportionate measure of having a Facebook executive escorted to a police station in connection with case involving WhatsApp, which operates separately from Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechWeekEurope.

“Facebook has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have.”

whatsapp mobileIn December WhatsApp was ordered to shut down its service for the next two days in Brazil by the Sao Paulo court, because WhatsApp was not co-operating with the Brazilian requests. And then when that didn’t work, the court issued a fine of 1 million reals ($178,717). That didn’t work either, so the court ordered the arrest of Dzodan.

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Tech Disputes

The WhatsApp dispute with Brazilian authorities comes amid other ongoing disputes between law enforcement officials and tech firms. Apple most recently is embroiled in a row the US department of Justice over a court order to unlock the iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook.

Microsoft has been been fighting for years now a demand by US law enforcement to hand over email records of a customer stored offshore in an Irish data centre. It has also refused to hand over customer data concerning a Skype user to a court in Belgium.

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