Earlier this week on Monday, a judge from the northeastern state of Sergipe, Brazil, ordered five local carriers to block all WhatsApp traffic for 72 hours, effectively preventing over 100 million customers from using the application. Fortunately, it looks like the ban has been lifted ahead of time following a court appeal from the company, and WhatsApp users in Brazil can once again use the platform without restrictions.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the background story, Brazilian authorities have previously contacted WhatsApp, asking for help from the company in ongoing investigations related to drug trafficking. Reportedly, although WhatsApp has been willing to cooperate, the Brazilian government asked “repeatedly” for user information that WhatsApp does not possess. WhatsApp messages are encrypted end-to-end and chat history is not kept on WhatsApp servers, thus retrieving such personal information can prove to be an impossible task even for WhatsApp / Facebook Inc. “When you send an end-to-end encrypted message, no one else can read it – not even us” said WhatsApp co-founder, Jan Koun, on Facebook yesterday. However, this didn’t stop Judge Marcel Maia Montalvão from ordering local carriers to block WhatsApp this week, much like it didn’t stop the Brazilian authorities from ordering a 42-hour WhatsApp ban last December.
However, the good news is that yesterday following an appeal from the company, another official overturned Judge Marcel Maia Montalvão’s request to block WhatsApp for 72 hours. Whether or not the original decision to block WhatsApp traffic helped in the criminal investigation is unclear, but regardless, these harsh rulings aren’t making any WhatsApp users happy, and with over 100 million Brazilians using the application, it’s rather difficult for authorities to go against WhatsApp without annoying a lot of people. But if recent history is any indication, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising for the Brazilian authorities to decide and punish WhatsApp (and its users) again in the future. On the bright side, the unfair bans don’t seem to stick for too long. Last December following a similar scenario, the 48-hour WhatsApp blockade was lifted after 12 hours, and needless to say, the more recent 72-hour ban doesn’t seem to have lasted either.