Brazil freezes $6M in funds in clash with WhatsApp

Jul 01, 2016, 2:28 PM EDT
(Source: Bhupinder Nayyar/flickr)
(Source: Bhupinder Nayyar/flickr)

Brazil’s problems with WhatsApp continued this week, except now they directly involve the messaging app’s parent company, Facebook.

Brazilian news outlets report that a judge in Brazil's southern Paraná state froze over $6 million in Facebook funds because WhatsApp has refused to turn over messages the government seeks in a drug case. The court claims that the frozen money amounts to the fines that WhatsApp owes the government for refusing to comply with the court orders to hand over data. Issued Thursday night, the freeze was placed on Facebook’s accounts as WhatsApp has no bank accounts in the country, according to Reuters.

The police say that the data sought from WhatsApp can prove links among people who have been captured in recent drug raids and their "confederates" in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Spain.

This is the most recent of many snafus WhatsApp has had with Brazilian police and courts, which are now resorting to placing financial constraints on the company and its parent, rather than implementing another shut-down of the messaging app. While Brazil’s internet law allows courts to shut down services in certain cases of non-compliance, the shuttering of WhatsApp in the past has not gone over well with the millions of WhatsApp users in the country. Service is typically restored quickly; in December 2015, a court-ordered shut-down of WhatsApp was followed by another court-ordered reinstatement of the services following outcry from the country’s 100+-million user base.

But bringing Facebook into the maelstrom, especially in such a financially constraining way, sets a new tone for Brazil’s relationship with these two highly popular companies. Brazil’s government has clashed with Facebook multiple times since the Snowden leaks of 2013. President Rousseff even went so far as to try to pass a law mandating that Facebook build data centers in Brazil in order to house data about Brazilians. So the government’s problem with U.S. technology companies’ encryption practices is nothing new. But now it seems to be coming to a head. $6 million is nothing to sniff at, and it remains to be seen how Facebook will handle this legal catastrophe.