HomeNewsBriefBrazil WhatsApp Ban Highlights Tech Controversies in Crime Probes
BRIEF

Brazil WhatsApp Ban Highlights Tech Controversies in Crime Probes

BRAZIL / 4 MAY 2016 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

A drug trafficking investigation in Brazil has exploded in a row over internet privacy and civil liberties after a judge ordered the temporary freezing of popular messaging application WhatsApp, presaging future conflicts over communication and encryption tools in organized crime investigations.

A judge in the Northeast state of Sergipe ordered Brazilian telecom companies to suspend WhatsApp service nationwide after the messaging company refused to turn over data related to an ongoing drug trafficking case. 

Consequently, many Brazilians reported being unable to access WhatsApp on May 2. The following day, however, the app began functioning normally after an appellate court overturned the judge's ruling, reported news website UOL.  

The court case, which was initiated in 2013, involves messages exchanged between alleged drug dealers via WhatsApp, reported BBC Brazil. The judge hearing the case, Marcel Maia Montalvão, has previously requested WhatsApp hand over data believed to be relevant to the investigation. After the company did not comply, Montalvão ordered the arrest of a local executive at WhatsApp's parent company Facebook in March. The executive was released after 24 hours, according to the BBC.

In response to the judge's actions, the messaging company said that it "cannot provide information we do not have" to Brazil authorities, according to The New York Times. Messages sent via WhatsApp are not stored on the company's servers, while more recently, WhatsApp added end-to-end encryption to all its messaging services. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Montalvão's move was widely criticized by media freedom watchdogslocal journalists and social media users. However, as the BBC reported, within Sergipe state Montalvão is seen as an effective judge whose rulings are tough on crime, a stance that some value in an area with some of Brazil's highest homicide rates

SEE ALSO:  Brazil News and Profiles

Nevertheless, observers are arguably also justified in expressing concern over internet freedom issues in Brazil. This was not the first time that a judge ordered a nationwide shutdown of WhatsApp after the company failed to supply data deemed important for a criminal investigation, and the impact of such decisions can extend far beyond the company itself.

Brazil is not the only country in the region where authorities have clashed with technology companies when conducting investigations. The United States recently saw a dramatic stand-off between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after the company refused to unlock an iPhone in a terrorism investigation. Investigators eventually found a way to do so without Apple's compliance. 

As communication tools and encryption technology become ever more sophisticated and more important for both legal and ilegal activities, such conflicts between privacy and the need to combat organized crime networks are only likely to increase.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 19 JAN 2017

The current violent crisis inside Brazil's penitentiary system is a perfect illustration of why authorities ignore -- or militarize…

BRAZIL / 12 DEC 2012

A Rio de Janeiro militia currently under investigation is said to have raised an average of $3 million per year…

BRAZIL / 12 DEC 2014

Criminal groups in Latin America's Southern Cone are increasingly focused on feeding the region's domestic market for drugs, rather than…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…