Brazilian Judge Overturns 72-Hour WhatsApp Suspension

A judge in Brazil has overturned another judge’s ruling that phone companies there block the popular messaging app WhatsApp from operating for 72 hours.

Following an appeal from WhatsApp’s lawyers, on Tuesday afternoon a Brazilian judge overturned a suspension previously handed down this week that would’ve blocked usage of the messaging app for 72 hours.

According to Reuters, on Tuesday afternoon a “different judge from the state tribunal intervened” and canceled Monday’s ruling.

WhatsApp’s presence in Brazil has been rocky at best from a legal standpoint, but it got even more tenuous this week when for the second time in the last six months a judge ordered the country’s telecommunications companies to block the messaging app.

On Monday Judge Marcel Montalvão demanded that WhatsApp be blocked for 72 hours after WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, reportedly refused to hand over data in an ongoing criminal investigation. Montalvão, a judge in Lagarto, a town in the Sergipe state, shut the app down at 2 p.m. on Monday following a request that Facebook share WhatsApp messages relating to a drug trafficking investigation.

According to a statement issued by the company the move affected nearly half of the country’s 200 million people, many of whom use the app to conduct day-to-day business.

“After cooperating to the full extent of our ability with the local courts, we are disappointed a judge in Sergipe decided yet again to order the block of WhatsApp in Brazil,” WhatsApp said in a statement at the time. “This decision punishes more than 100 million Brazilians who rely on our service to communicate, run their businesses, and more, in order to force us to turn over information we repeatedly said we don’t have.”

Federal police in the country in March arrested a Facebook executive, Diego Dzodan, Vice President for Latin America, over the same case, and claimed the company was “repeatedly failing to comply with judicial orders.”

Five different phone operators, including Oi SA, Telefonica Brasil SA, Tim Participacoes SA, Claro SA and Nextel, are complying with the shutdown. According to The Intercept, failure to comply with the ruling could cost ISPs roughly $142,000 USD a day.

In December, a different case prompted the companies to suspend the app. That outage lasted only 12 hours however, as a senior court in Sao Paulo quickly rescinded the suspension.

If this week’s suspension had lasted the full 72 hours, Brazilians wouldn’t have regained access to WhatsApp until 2 p.m. on Thursday.

The company rolled out complete end-to-end encryption for its one billion users early last month, ensuring that no one can eavesdrop on communications between senders and recipients.

As the Sergipe state court case is ongoing and shrouded in legal secrecy, it’s unclear exactly what sort of information the judge is looking to ascertain. The company has made it clear, for months now, that it doesn’t store user messages on its servers and that it can’t access information it doesn’t have but that hasn’t stopped officials in Brazil from asking.

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