Brazilians have been shut out of WhatsApp for the second time in less than six months after officials at the Facebook-owned app failed to deliver data requested by authorities conducting a criminal investigation, according to reports (link in Portuguese).
Judge Marcel Montalvão, from the small city of Lagarto, ordered the country’s wireless operators to obstruct use of the app for 72 hours, or face a daily fine of 500,000 reais fine (around $140,000). They have all said they would comply, according to Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo.
Some 100 million Brazilians rely on WhatsApp to avoid hefty cell phone fees. A similar decision by another judge in December resulted in public outcry—and the lifting of the mandated 48-hour blockade after 12 hours.
Facebook’s alleged refusal to cooperate with the investigation in Lagarto, which involves drug gangs, already resulted in the arrest of the company’s Latin American vice president, Diego Dzodan, last month. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has said in the past that it does not store messages on its services and has no way to provide the data authorities were requesting.
“Our legal and safety teams work hard to respond to legitimate law enforcement requests while fulfilling our responsibility to protect people’s privacy and security,” the company said in a statement released last week, along with a report on information requests from police around the world. Facebook said it produced data for 41% of requests made by Brazilian authorities from July to December.
Meanwhile, Folha is helpfully providing a list of alternative communication methods so Brazilians don’t get cut off during the WhatsApp blackout.