Brazil moves to block WhatsApp (again)

Update: Digital rights groups are mobilizing against the block. You can go here to join our email petition, and here to tweet at Brazilian commissioners. 


For the second time in six months, a Brazilian judge has ordered internet providers in the country to block WhatsApp. The judge issued the order because WhatsApp reportedly did not comply with an order to assist the federal police in an ongoing drug investigation.

The order could not have come at a more critical time for digital rights: President Dilma is embroiled in an impeachment proceeding and conservative lawmakers are trying to ram through seven dangerous bills that would undermine human rights with broad, vague, or over-reaching provisions aimed at cybercrime.  One of the bills would normalize judges blocking services like WhatsApp for a wide range of offenses, including copyright infringement. You can take action to fight the cybercrime bills here.

The last time a judge in Brazil ordered WhatsApp blocked, an appeals court judge overturned the order in about 12 hours, citing an inappropriate interpretation of the Marco Civil, Brazil’s landmark legislation protecting the open internet. We’re not sure what will happen this time, but for now, major internet providers TIM, Oi, Vivo, Claro and Nextel must uphold the order or face a daily fine of 500,000 reais (about $143,000 USD). So we urge them to take steps listed in our Telco Remedy Plan (PDF), such as notifying internet users about why the shutdown  happened and what legal or policy steps they are taking in response.

Access Now condemned blocking WhatsApp last time this happened. Singling out WhatsApp due to its use of end-to-end encryption — which prevents the company from accessing the contents of users’ communications — sets a dangerous precedent and tramples upon our right to privacy.

Here are some of the tweets that capture this unfolding story:

Brazilian lawyer Maria Cunha e Melo alerted us to the block:

Our Latin American policy analyst shared it with Spanish-speaking audiences:

Peter Micek, our Global Policy and Legal Counsel, pointed out that this blocking can be seen as an internet shutdown:

A Brazil-based correspondent made light of whether the order was necessary or proportionate:

We’ll be in touch with more updates as developments unfold. Meanwhile, there are a couple ways you can help:


Image credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation