The detention of a Facebook vice president in Brazil for obstructing an organized crime investigation by failing to hand over content from WhatsApp messages requested by the Brazilian government could set a dangerous precedent corporate liability and spell doom for users' rights in the South American country, a rights group said Wednesday.
Diego J. Dzodan, vice president for Latin America at Facebook was picked up by authorities on obstruction and contempt charges, but has since been released after Judge Ruy Pinheiro ruled it seemed "that the extreme measure of imprisonment was hurried," according to a report by the BBC. Even if Facebook so desired, it could not heed the government request because the end-to-end encryption of data provided by WhatsApp, a Facebook company, puts content outside the social media giant's reach, according to Javier Pallero, policy analyst at digital rights advocacy Access Now.
“Holding a company and its representatives liable for not being able to provide information they do not possess is excessive and constitutes an undue burden on the providers of communications services,” Pallero said in a statement, noting that the action was even more surprising considering that the country, for several years, "has been a global leader on internet governance and its Marco Civil continues to be the gold standard for rights-respecting internet legislation everywhere."
The arrest calls into question “the future of users' rights in Brazil” at a time when the country's lawmakers “consider legislation that could require companies to retain and hand over more private data,” Pallero said, stressing that requests for such data should “be handled in a legal process compliant with the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, which require that the government prove necessity, proportionality, and legitimate aim to justify any interference.”
It's not the first time WhatsApp has run afoul of a government data request in Brazil. A court in December ordered a shutdown of the messaging platform for a similar failure to company with a government request, Access Now noted.