Brazilian Supreme Court overthrows WhatsApp ban

Service is back up and running a few hours after blocking order; Court president said the ban is "disproportionate" and violates freedom of expression.
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Brazil's Supreme Court has suspended a previous ruling that blocked messaging tool WhatsApp throughout Brazil for a few hours today.

According to the president at the Supreme Court, Ricardo Lewandowski, the ruling by Rio de Janeiro's judge Daniela Barbosa violates freedom of expression, communication and manifestation of thought.

Following the Supreme Court's decision, the service was made available again by the country's cell carriers, who had been blocking the app since 2pm this afternoon.

Lewandowski added that the ban was "disproportionate." Judge Barbosa had been demanding that WhatsApp exchanges involving people under criminal investigation be forwarded to the police in real time before encryption is implemented.

"It does not seem reasonable to allow [Judge Barbosa's decision] to prosper when it creates legal uncertainty among users of the service, leaving millions of Brazilians unable to communicate with each other," Lewandowski wrote.

Judge Barbosa, on the other hand, said WhatsApp's owner Facebook cannot act as if the law does not apply to them.

"[Facebook] puts itself above Brazilian law. Brazil ranks second in terms of WhatsApp users worldwide. So they come here, offer the service, profit from that and want to be at the fringes of the law?," the Judge told Brazilian news portal G1.

WhatsApp is a key communication tool for about half of Brazil's population, with many using the service for business. The service had been blocked in Brazil in other occasions over the last year by judges across the country, all on the same grounds.

Earlier today, Justice minister Alexandre Moraes said that he would try and find a way to stop such bans from being enforced.

"We end up getting caught between the two opposite ends of the debate. On the one hand, failure to provide information by those who hold absolutely necessary information in the fight against organized crime, and on the other hand, when there is the need for a ban, it affect millions of people," Moraes told reporters at a press conference today.

"We have to regulate this. We are developing a project so that there is a middle ground, in the sense that the company holding the information must have a registered office in Brazil, which technically allows it to provide the Brazilian information," the minister added.

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