Facebook's most senior executive in Latin America was jailed in Brazil Tuesday after the company refused to release private user information requested by the government.
The arrest of Diego Dzodan, the social media company's vice president for Latin America, was carried out on the strength of a decree issued by Judge Marcel Montalvao. He was charged with the refusal to surrender information from the WhatsApp messaging app, which Facebook acquired in 2014. The data is reportedly relevant to an ongoing drug-trafficking investigation and law enforcement authorities want access to help solve the case.
"We're disappointed with the extreme and disproportionate measure of having a Facebook executive escorted to a police station in connection with [a] case involving WhatsApp, which operates separately from Facebook," Facebook maintained in a statement. "Facebook has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have."
A representatives from WhatsApp also echoed the same sentiments, citing that it has cooperated with the Brazilian police to the best of its abilities and that it strongly disagrees with its decision.
A spokesperson for Brazilian police, however, countered that the agency already reached out to the company four months ago to the point that a $12,700 fine was imposed for each day Facebook ignored the order. This accumulated to a total of 1 million reais ($250,000) sum.
Granting that Facebook would be willing to cooperate with authorities, the task of producing WhatsApp user data may be close to impossible since the messaging platform adopted the end-to-end encryption technology, which, according to Christopher Soghoian, technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, keeps the WhatsApp team from monitoring messages sent within the platform's network.
Facebook's brush with Brazilian law enforcement is not the first for the company, as WhatsApp has been suspended from operation after a similar request for information involving a criminal case was denied last year. The issue also figures prominently in the way Internet companies are being threatened by governments around the world today to cooperate in releasing user data, such as Apple's current dispute with the FBI.
Dzodan's arrest, however, is still considered rare. "Because these large global Internet companies have staff in many countries who are vulnerable to legal action including arrest and criminal charges, they generally do comply with legally binding requests from authorities for user data," said Rebecca MacKinnon, an Internet freedom activist.