Following the tragic San Bernardino shootings, there has been a lot of debate regarding data encryption on smartphones. Apple refused FBI’s request to create custom software to decrypt the iPhone 5C used by one of the attackers, and several other companies including Google, Facebook, and BlackBerry have defended Apple in their decision on account that it could set a dangerous precedent. In more recent events, Brazilian authorities have detained Facebook’s VP for Latin America, Diego Dzodan, for failing to provide WhatsApp user data that could be helpful in a criminal investigation related to drug trafficking.
According to Facebook, Diego Dzodan was brought in for questioning earlier this morning and remained in custody. A Brazilian Federal Police spokeswoman claimed that Dzodan was detained four months after local authorities have obtained the first court order, asking Facebook to provide Whatsapp user data which could help in solving the investigation. After failing to provide user data, the court started fining Facebook $21,600 a day for two months, and increased the fine to $253,000 a day last month. On February 7, the court issued an arrest warrant for Diego Dzodan.
Reportedly, the suspects investigated by authorities used both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to plan their crimes. However, although WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, a spokesperson for the company said that WhatsApp cannot provide this type of information because the application encrypts user information which then passes through the platform without being kept on a central server. In other words, they cannot provide information they don’t have.
WhatsApp adds that they are “disappointed that law enforcement took this extreme step”. According to Facebook, over a period of 18 months until June 2015, the Brazilian government issued more than 3,700 requests to Facebook to provide user data from services such as Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Reportedly, the company was able to provide “at least some data” for roughly 37% of all the requests, the majority of which were related to criminal activity surrounding kidnappings and robberies. However, in most of these cases, the authorities have requested basic subscriber information, as opposed to encrypted user data.
In addition, Facebook claims it uses “strict processes” to determine whether government demands can or cannot be met. With that being said, it’s worth noting that there’s only one Facebook sales office In Sao Paulo and it’s not clear whether anyone working in that office has the authority to make decisions regarding Whatsapp and Facebook products or policies.