Brazil Bans WhatsApp (Again) Over Encryption


WhatsApp has once again gone dark in Brazil—this time in a dispute over access to encrypted data.

Judge Marcel Montalvao on Monday ordered local telecom providers to block the Facebook-owned app for 72 hours; users should regain access Thursday afternoon.

Last month, WhatsApp rolled out end-to-end encryption for iOS and Android platforms—a security measure aimed at protecting messages from the prying eyes of cybercriminals, hackers, "oppressive regimes," and even WhatsApp itself. So when Montalvao recently requested chat records related to a drug investigation, the company refused, arguing that it simply cannot provide the required records.

"Yet again millions of innocent Brazilians are being punished because a court wants WhatsApp to turn over information we repeatedly said we don't have," WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum wrote in a Monday Facebook post.

"Not only do we encrypt messages end-to-end on WhatsApp to keep people's information safe and secure, we also don't keep your chat history on our servers," he continued. "When you send an end-to-end encrypted message, no one else can read it—not even us."

This isn't Montalvao's first squabble with WhatsApp: As TechCrunch pointed out, he is the same judge who in March jailed Facebook's Diego Dzodan for allegedly failing to hand over information related to an organized crime and drug trafficking investigation. Dzodan was released a day later. But his arrest was just the latest in a long line of issues Facebook has encountered in the South American country.

In December, a judge ordered phone companies to temporarily block WhatsApp after the company reportedly failed to respond to a court order. The ban was quickly overturned, but service was down for about 48 hours—"a sad day for Brazil," Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said at the time.

Now, Koum and his team are "working to get WhatsApp back up and running as soon as possible," without compromising the security of "our billion users around the world."

Meanwhile, rival messaging service Telegram is seeing an influx of sign-ups, just as it did during the last WhatsApp blackout. You might encounter some delays with verification, though.

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