Trouble comes in threes. And the entirety of Brazil is without WhatsApp once again. A court of the federal republic ordered the blocking of the instant messaging app, which on Feb. 2 reached two billion active users, with 93 million of them in Brazil alone. The reason is always the same: the refusal to reveal the personal data of several clients involved in criminal investigations.
In fact, it appears that because of the lack of collaboration during an investigation of several drug traffickers, through a verdict passed on April 26, Judge Marcel Maia Montalvao of the Lagarto court ordered all Brazilian telephone companies to block WhatsApp for 72 hours, starting from 2 p.m. local time (7 p.m. Italian time) on Tuesday, May 3. Even though the five local companies, Tim, Oi, Vivo, Claro and Nextel, immediately declared their intention to respect the measure, it was specified that anyone not adhering to it would be subject to a fine of around 124,000 euros per day (500,000 reals).
The question is not new in Brazil, and even less so among the leaders of the American giant, to which the app belongs. The first step was taken by a Teresina court in the north of the country, which ordered the app blocked because it had refused to remove some photos of “girls and minors shown sexually,” which were at the center of an inquiry by the city prosecutor on the prostitution of minors. That was in February 2015 and just a few months later, precisely on Dec. 17, 2015, a Sao Paolo court decided again to suspend the service for lack of collaboration during another criminal investigation (the Supreme Court had then invalidated the 48-hour suspension).
However, the question was revisited much more noticeably in February when the giant Apple was involved. In that case as well, the federal judge — who asked Apple to break into the encrypted iPhone of the San Bernardino assailant, who on Dec. 2, 2015 killed 14 people — was denied every hope. At the time, it was Tim Cook himself, Apple CEO, who replied in a long letter in which he declined the request and called the demand of the U.S. government “a frightening example of overreach,”* which would give rise to “a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.”
But the best is yet to come. Because of another judge who approved the injunction of the company’s lawyers, the suspension of service was cancelled. This shows to what extent the power of Mark Zuckerberg, shareholder and CEO of Facebook, grows like an avalanche, beyond the confines of the web, becoming an absolute and horizontal power. Not satisfied, the Facebook founder then wrote a long post on his personal profile, inviting Brazilians to take to the streets to ask for the introduction of a law that would prevent the interruption of Internet services like WhatsApp.
“Your voices have been heard once again. Thank you to our community for helping resolve this. That said, the idea that everyone in Brazil can be denied freedom to communicate the way they want is very scary in a democracy. You and your friends can help make sure this never happens again, and I hope you get involved. Tomorrow, in Brasilia at 6pm, the Internet Freedom Caucus is hosting an event and will be introducing laws to prevent blocking internet services like WhatsApp. If you are Brazilian and you support WhatsApp, I encourage you to make your voice heard. Spread the word online by signing this petition.”
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.