Latin America & Caribbean

WhatsApp Brazil: Judge blocks access to messaging service

The WhatsApp icon Image copyright EPA
Image caption The low-cost app is much used in Brazil where mobile phone charges are high

A judge in Brazil has blocked access to messaging service WhatsApp for 72 hours, the latest suspension to hit the hugely popular application.

The judge, Marcel Montalvao, issued the order because WhatsApp owner Facebook failed to hand over information requested in a criminal investigation.

WhatsApp was temporarily shut down in December for similar reasons.

The service is widely used in Brazil, where mobile phone owners face some of the highest charges in the world.

The order came into place from 1400 local time (17:00 GMT) and applies to Brazil's five main mobile operators.

Analysis: Daniel Gallas, BBC South America Business Correspondent

It is not the first time access to WhatsApp has been blocked in Brazil.

Previous court orders were quickly overturned but in this case that looks unlikely to happen.

A judge said that WhatsApp had failed to fully explain to the authorities why it would not help police with their investigations into drug trafficking.

Following that decision, it looks like Brazilians will have to resort to other messaging apps for 72 hours or start making phone calls again.

WhatsApp executives are in Brazil this week to meet with Brazilian authorities to discuss the matter further.

Like in the dispute between Apple and the FBI over access to the phone of the San Bernardino gunman, WhatsApp and the Brazilian judicial system have not yet been able to reach an understanding on how to collaborate in criminal investigations without compromising individual freedoms.

A rival service, Telegram, reported a surge of applications after the block came into place.

WhatsApp said it was "disappointed" by the move, saying it had co-operated fully with the local court.

"This decision punishes more than 100 million Brazilians who rely on our service... in order to force us to turn over information we repeatedly said we don't have," a statement said.

In March the same judge ordered the arrest of a Facebook executive based in Brazil for failing to comply with an attempt to block WhatsApp.

He was released the next day.

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