Brazilians could not access WhatsApp for four hours last Tuesday. The four-hour ban was the third WhatsApp shut down in Brazil. The last ban was in May this year.
On Tuesday, the WhatsApp ban was ordered by a Brazilian court. Law enforcement authorities took WhatsApp to court because the Facebook-owned messenger refused to assist the authorities in an ongoing criminal investigation. The ban lasted for a whole 4 hours.
WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps. In Brazil, WhatsApp has over 100 million users. In other words, half of the Brazilian population uses WhatsApp. The popularity of the app in the South American country has landed it into problems with the law enforcement agencies.
In December 2015, a court issued a similar ban. The ban lasted a little more than 48 hours. There were nation-wide protests that resulted in the lifting of the ban. In May 2016, another WhatsApp ban was overturned after 24 hours. Two months prior, in March, Latin America’s Head of Facebook was arrested after because the Brazilian Police were unable to access WhatsApp messages that could have assisted a drugs investigation.
Some time ago WhatsApp was not one of the most secure messaging apps. Intercepting messages sent via the app was possible. The web-based version of the app had some vulnerability. These vulnerabilities allowed hackers to dupe WhatsApp users to download malware to their computers. However, WhatsApp messages are now end-to-end encrypted. No one can intercept messages. Attempting to intercept messages returns an intelligible code. Even WhatsApp itself cannot read messages you send to your friends.
The Brazilian Supreme Court lifted the Tuesday ban. A lower court was responsible for the ban. Daniel Barbosa, the judge who ordered the ban, stated that he ruled in favor of the authorities since Facebook would aid the investigation by providing the information needed. The judge was also scornful of the manner in which Facebook responded to authorities. Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, yet Facebook responded to the authorities in English.
But the Supreme Court perceived the case from a different angle. Ricardo Lewandoski, the Supreme Court judge who lifted the ban, said that the suspension of WhatsApp services was a direct violation of the freedom of expression provided by the law. Nonetheless, Brazilian law enforcement continues to insist that WhatsApp should assist criminal investigations.
WhatsApp founder, Jan Koum, was pleased that the court lifted the ban. He continued to comment that it was his hope that that was the last ban. According to him, WhatsApp helps lots of people stay in touch with family members, friends and business associates.