Facebook’s WhatsApp has been in hot water in Brazil in recent months over its encryption policies, which have led Brazilian judges to block the messaging service three times since December 2015. Now, a Brazilian prosecutor has frozen 38 million reals, or $ 11.7 million U.S., of Facebook funds.
The blocks of the popular messaging app stem from the tech company’s refusal to assist in various criminal investigations — WhatsApp says since messages between users are end-to-end encrypted, so it can’t decipher them and offer user data to the government. The frozen funds reportedly reflect the fines issued to WhatsApp and Facebook for failing to follow through on a court order to turn over this user data, according to Reuters.
Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this month, Brazillian judge Daniela Barbosa ordered a nationwide shutdown of WhatsApp’s messaging services in response to the company’s refusal to fork over data “relevant to [an] ongoing investigation.” But hours later, the country’s supreme court suspended the ruling. That seems to be the trend, as the other blockages ended earlier than ordered.
In reversing Barbosa’s decision, Brazil’s highest court also vacated a penalty of $ 50,000 per day levied earlier on WhatsApp for “failure to adhere” to the lower court’s mandates. “[The judgment was] scarcely reasonable or proportional,” said supreme court President Ricardo Lewandowski.
It’s was the third time WhatsApp had been shut down in Brazil. The messaging service maintains that it does not retain the information that the government is seeking, and that even if it did, it would not be able to decode it. In April, the service instituted end-to-end encryption, effectively preventing it from intercepting, on a technical level, communications between its users. It’s largely a philosophical choice — WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum has historically expressed opposition to “compromising the security of our billion users around the world” via backdoors for law enforcement around its security measures.