Facebook executive released from jail in Brazil

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Facebook executive arrested for refusing to give information about the company's users to law enforcement was released from jail on Wednesday.

Diego Dzodan, Facebook's most senior representative in Latin America, left a jail in Sao Paulo after one night in custody on a warrant issued by a judge in the northeastern state of Sergipe.

The warrant says Dzodan repeatedly failed to comply with a judicial order to cooperate with an investigation into drug trafficking and organized crime. The company had ignored requests to surrender user information from the WhatsApp messaging service, an application bought by Facebook in 2014.

According to police, investigators first contacted the company four months ago, but received no response. Starting two months ago, the company was fined 50,000 Brazilian reais ($12,700) for every day it ignored the order, an amount which rose to 1 million Brazilian reais ($250,000) in recent weeks.

Brazilian police argue that Facebook's stance is at odds with those of Yahoo, Google and local telecommunications companies, which have been willing to hand over user information to help investigations.

WhatsApp insists that is it unable to provide information that it does not have to the authorities. In a statement released on Wednesday, the company said, "arresting people with no connection to pending law enforcement investigation is a capricious step and we are concerned about the effects for the people of Brazil and innovation in the country."

The Brazilian authorities' tussle with Facebook has drawn comparisons to the FBI's battle with Apple following its request that the company unlock the iPhone belonging to one of the terrorists who carried out the San Bernardino killings.

"The Apple vs FBI case and the WhatsApp case are in many ways exactly the same thing," said Zaki Manian, a cryptography engineer and privacy activist. "The encryption systems employed by these companies is such that they do not have access to encrypted data. The only way the company could access the data would be to employ a malicious update to allow access."

While some companies have been willing to design systems in which intercepts were possible, many tech companies are taking the opposite approach in the wake of the outraged reaction to the U.S. National Security Agency's mass-surveillance program revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"After the Snowden disclosures, my understanding was that the Brazilians were very upset to learn how easy it was for the NSA to spy on their communications," said Chris Soghoian, the principle technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union. "What the Brazilians apparently want is something that cannot exist. There is no way to design a service that is secure from the NSA that allows local law enforcement access."

Dzodan's arrest is not the first time the Brazilian authorities have come into conflict with Facebook. In December a judicial order forced Brazil's telecommunications companies to block WhatsApp over its refusal to cooperate with a police inquiry. The move snarled communications for many of its 100 million users in Brazil for around 12 hours. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the time said he was "stunned" by the "extreme decision."