A Brazilian judge has lifted a WhatsApp ban.
The ban was lifted after another judge imposed a suspension order on the popular social media tool the previous day.
On Wednesday (December 16), A Sao Paulo court ordered telecommunications companies to temporarily suspend the use of the Facebook-owned app, which allows users to make calls and send texts for free, for 48 hours.
The following day, Judge Xavier de Souza ruled that the service, which had been suspended for 12 hours, be resumed immediately. He said that it was “not reasonable that millions of users be affected by the inertia of the company.”
Little information was revealed about who exactly was behind the injunction. According to Reuters, it has been reported in the Brazilian media that a suspected drug trafficker had been allegedly using the app for illicit activity, and that the court wants access to the trafficker’s WhatsApp communication.
Keeping in touch
WhatsApp is extremely popular in Brazil. TechCrunch reports that 93 percent of the country’s internet users use the app.
Paula K, a Brazilian living in London, told the BBC that as monthly payment plans and international calls can be very expensive in Brazil, WhatsApp allows people to keep in touch with loved ones.
It was, therefore, unsurprising that the move to suspend the service proved massively unpopular, and people soon began expressing their disdain, and their sadness, on social media. The hashtag #Nessas48HorasEuVou (#Inthese48hoursIwill) began trending within hours and Twitter was awash with jokes and memes as people contemplated what life would be like without WhatsApp for 48 hours.
Mark Zuckerberg also took to Facebook to express his disappointment, writing in a post: “I am stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.”
Although the app is popular with the internet-using population of Brazil, it is intensely disliked by the Brazilian telecommunications firms. These companies argue that WhatsApp’s option to allow free calls is unregulated and affects their business.
In August, Amos Genish, president of Brazilian telecoms firm Vivo, “declared war” against WhatsApp, calling the company a “pirate operator”. He told the daily Brazilian newspaper Folha that the app is problematic because it is unlicensed, and should be regulated like a telephone operator. Genish’s criticism, however, was not just reserved for WhatsApp. He also lambasted similar services like Apple’s iMessenger.
This is not the first time that social media has been temporarily shut down in Brazil. In 2007, a court ordered You Tube to be suspended in the whole country after a model initiated a lawsuit to block an intimate video of her and her boyfriend. Then in 2013, a court threatened to suspend Facebook in Brazil because the social media company failed to remove content connected to a disagreement between two neighbors.
This latest Brazilian social media ban has occurred amid fears that the country’s “Marco Civil da Internet” law could soon be compromised. A comprehensive and progressive online bill of rights which explicitly guarantees free expression online, net neutrality, and the right to privacy, the legislation was signed by Dilma Rousseff in April 2014.
The Brazilian Congress, however, has proposed new laws which could effectively undermine the law. For example, one proposal is the PL 215/15 law, which would require Brazilians to input their home address, phone number, and tax ID in order to access any website or app on the internet. It would also mean that companies such as Facebook would be legally required to save that data for up to three years and also hand it over to police if ordered to do so by the court.
Although Brazilians have breathed a sigh of relief after the decision to suspend WhatsApp’s was lifted, bad news for internet freedom in Brazil could lie ahead if Congress’ proposed laws are implemented.