Brazil Freezes Facebook Funds Over WhatsApp Controversy


The ongoing saga of WhatsApp's trials and tribulations in Brazil has just taken yet another turn. In a remarkable new development to the continuing dispute between the country's investigating agencies and the world's premier mobile messaging platform, a court in the city of Londrina in the southern Parana state has now issued orders to block funds worth 19.5 million Reals ($6.07 million) belonging to WhatsApp's parent company, Facebook. The order follows WhatsApp's refusal to comply with "repeated" court orders to hand over encrypted messages allegedly exchanged between suspected drug traffickers to law enforcement agencies in the country. The popular messaging service has already been blocked and unblocked multiple times over the past few months over this high-profile case.

According to reports coming out of the South American nation, the blocked amount is equal to the fines that have been imposed on WhatsApp by authorities in the country for its alleged disregard of local laws. While the messaging service does not have any bank account in the country, it's parent company Facebook does, which is why the Menlo Park, California-based social networking giant now has its money frozen by the federal court. The amount frozen is equal to the overall fine imposed on WhatsApp by the relevant authorities in the country. While the original fine was calculated at 6.5 million Reals ($2.02 million), it increased by an identical amount each time a new compliance order was issued. With three such notices reportedly sent to WhatsApp over a period of six weeks, the overall payable fine (and hence, the amount eventually frozen) increased by a factor of three to 19.5 million Reals.


As in many other regions around the world, WhatsApp remains by far the most popular mobile messaging platform in Brazil with over 100 million users. The company implements end-to-end encryption for all its messages, which meant it claimed technical unfeasibility when asked to hand over details in relation to this case by the country's federal police last year. Since then, the courts have gotten involved, issuing at least three orders to the company to assist the country's law enforcement, but with WhatsApp unmoved from its stated position, its popular messaging service has been blocked for varying durations on more than one occasion, starting last December. However, authorities had to back down and lift the blockades every time because of public pressure, which is why this time around, the service remains accessible to users even as the company and its parent are being held accountable for their actions.

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