Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Facebook's Latin America vice-president arrested by Brazilian police

Dzodan accused of ignoring judicial order in drug crime investigation
Facebook says WhatsApp is separate entity and does not store information
Facebook's Latin America vice-president arrested by Brazilian police 

This is not Facebook’s first run-in with the law in Brazil. In December a judge blocked its WhatsApp messaging service after the company refused to hand over user information. Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters/Corbis
In the latest clash between a US internet company and Brazilian law enforcement authorities, police in São Paulo have detained the regional vice-president of Facebook for failing to provide information requested by a criminal investigation.

Diego Dzodan was taken into custody at Garulhos airport on Tuesday and is now being questioned about Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp’s alleged non-compliance with a court order.

According to the court, WhatsApp had been ordered for more than a month to reveal messages relating to a suspected drug-trafficking ring. After the company denied three related requests by federal police, the judge first imposed a daily fine on the US company of 50,000 reais (£9,000), then a daily penalty of 1m reais (£180,000), and finally ordered the arrest.

“In the face of repeated non-compliance, the judge Marcel Maia ordered the arrest of a representative of the company in Brazil, Mr Diego Dzodan for obstructing the police investigation,” a court spokesman wrote in an email.

Facebook called the police action “extreme and disproportionate”.

It says WhatsApp – which was acquired by Facebook in 2014 and has no staff based in Brazil – operates independently so Dzodan should not be held responsible. Moreover, it notes that the WhatsApp messaging service does not store content, which is encrypted by users at either end. The courts, it says, are requesting information it does not have.

This is different from information found on the Facebook social network, which is archived and can be provided on a case-by-case basis if requested by Brazilian law enforcement officers and approved by the company’s lawyers.

“Facebook has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have,” a company spokesman said.

This is not the first controversy regarding WhatsApp, which has been the most popular download in Brazil over the past two years and is used by about half of the 200 million population.

In a separate case in December, a court issued an injunction for WhatsApp to be shut down for 48 hours for twice failing to comply with its orders.

That injunction was overturned after an outcry by users and an intervention by Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who described the shutdown as “a sad day for Brazil”.

The main entrance gate of the Provisional Detention Centre in São Paulo, Brazil, where Facebook’s Diego Dzodan, is being held. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Adriano Mendes, a lawyer who specialises in digital law but is not directly involved in the current case, said such disputes were caused by differences in data protection regulations and knowledge.

“Sometimes judges here think that Facebook and Google are responsible to store all the information they have. But those firms don’t always have it after a month or a year,” he said. “A poor understanding of how technology works creates a lot of problems in Brazil. The judicial system is not equipped to deal with these issues.”

He predicted the case against Facebook would shortly be overturned by a higher court as was the case last December.

A spokesman for WhatsApp said the company had cooperated with investigators “to the full extent of our ability”.

“We are disappointed that law enforcement took this extreme step. WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have,” the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Facebook decried the arrest, saying that the company had always been available to answer questions by the Brazilian authorities.

“We are disappointed with the extreme and disproportionate measure of having a Facebook executive escorted to a police station in connection with case involving WhatsApp, which operates separately from Facebook,” the spokesman said.

As in other countries, the debate in Brazil over individual privacy and digital monitoring by the authorities has gathered pace in recent years. Interceptions of personal communications – mostly in the form of phone taps – are widely used by the police in criminal cases with court approval.

But there was outrage in 2013 when leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the US National Security Agency was spying on the emails and phone calls of President Dilma Rousseff and senior executives of the state-run oil company Petrobras.

Source: The Guardian


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