Despite the fact that Facebook, which owns WhatsApp messenger, cannot read its users messages because of end-to-end encryption on its messages, on Thursday, June 30, a Brazilian court blocked 19.5 million reals ($6.07 million) of Facebook funds after the social media giant failed to reveal messages related to a drugs case.
It’s the latest in a long-running feud between Brazil and WhatsApp, after a Brazilian judge shut down the messaging service for 72 hours in May, affecting Brazil’s 100 million WhatsApp users. The shutdown was lifted within 24 hours by another court.
Brazil’s federal police say Facebook has repeatedly defied its orders to turn over messages that could be used against suspected members of an international cocaine smuggling group that has been under investigation since January this year. News website G1 reported that Brazilian police say it would be impossible to link the suspected members to those captured in recent raids and their confederates in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Spain.
The problem is, Facebook cannot do anything to help Brazil, because WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company has absolutely no access to what its users share. Brazil doesn’t seem to understand this, because after repeatedly requesting that Facebook expose the messages, a judge in Brazil’s southern Parana state decided to freeze Facebook’s funds, which are reportedly equal to WhatsApp’s fines accumulated for not complying with the Brazilian court.
WhatsApp doesn’t have any bank accounts in Brazil, so the judge decided to freeze funds owned by Facebook instead. But The Guardian reports that the Brazilian court did not use provision of Brazil’s internet law that allows courts to shut down services in special cases of non-compliance with court orders.
When Brazil arrested and detained a senior Facebook executive in March, the company said in a statement that it had cooperated with investigators to the full extent of its ability. “We are disappointed that law enforcement took this extreme step,” said the spokesman. “WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have.”