Facebook executive arrested in Brazil over data access

A Whatsapp App logo is seen behind a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone that is logged on to Facebook.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Facebook's highest ranking executive in Latin America was arrested in Sao Paulo, Brazil Tuesday in a dispute with police over a request to access data for an investigation.

Diego Dzodan, the vice president of Facebook for Latin America, was detained after he refused to grant police access to data from WhatsApp -- a messaging service owned by Facebook -- that they said was crucial to a criminal probe. Dzodan, a citizen of Argentina, was arrested in his home and is being held pending questioning, AFP reported.

Authorities said Dzodan demonstrated "repeated non-compliance with court orders."

In a statement, Facebook said: "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 has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have."

For its part, WhatsApp said they are "disappointed" that the police took such an "extreme step."

"WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have," a spokesperson said. "We cooperated to the full extent of our ability in this case and while we respect the important job of law enforcement, we strongly disagree with its decision."

WhatsApp says it does not store users' messages after they are delivered to a recipient. The service has also been rolling out end-to-end encryption technology aimed at shielding users' messages from hackers. "No one ­-- not WhatsApp or anyone else ­-- can intercept or compromise people's messages," the company said.

The dispute can be traced back four months to a court order issued by a judge requesting access to the data. Brazilian media reported at the time that a drug trafficking gang was using the WhatsApp messaging service to discuss business. After Facebook refused to comply with the request for information, authorities imposed daily fines two months ago that started at about $12,500. A month ago, the fines rose to about $250,000 a day.

Back in December, Brazil temporarily shut down access to WhatsApp. The lower court in Sao Paulo ordered telecoms to block the messaging service, which impacted communications for most of the app's 100 million Brazilian users for nearly 12 hours. Details over the shutdown were not clear, but local Brazilian media reported that it was over the investigation of the drug gang, the Associated Press reports.

The dispute in Brazil somewhat mirrors the current dispute in the United States between Apple and the FBI, with the tech giant refusing to develop technology to give the government access to data from an iPhone belonging to one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino, California, shootings.

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