On Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, Sandra Marques, a Brazilian judge in Sao Paulo ordered to shut down a popular communications app called WhatsApp. This command affected 93 million people who rely on the app every day for correspondence. The order, which threatens individual rights, was issued because WhatsApp refused to provide information that would aid in a criminal case.
Huffington Post tech editor Damon Beres believes the ability to shut down live communication venues on a whim is a major threat to people’s rights. The 48-hour ban was overruled on Thursday by a higher court judge, Xavier de Souza, because the order to provide officials with wiretapping was an impossible expectation. He said, “It has not been shown reasonable that millions of users should be affected as a result of the company’s inertia.”
The Facebook-owned company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Zuckerberg claims that the requested wiretaps were impossible because all communications across the Internet are encrypted and not monitored, so the information the officials needed was not available. On Thursday, he announced, “This is a sad day for Brazil. Until today, Brazil has been an ally in creating an open internet.”
The concern addressed by The Huffington Post questions the vulnerability of online services. If they can be shut down on such short notice, where does that leave the people and their right to live a prosperous life? The threat does not only strike social networking services, but email can be affected as well. Imagine if email service providers were pressed to lock people out of their messages.
Cyber security expert Bruce Schneier told The Huffington Post that a major communication shutdown can occur immediately without knowledge or consent. The scary thing is that Facebook was not the company that shut down the WhatsApp services. The court order forced the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to block access to the app. To Schneier, it was alarming how the people’s rights were threatened by making vital communication vulnerable.
Schneier also stated, “We need to start having these discussions about when these systems permeate society to a degree that they become essential to living a full life. What are the rules these companies follow?” After all, it is illegal for a utility company to shut off heat during the winter. Perhaps, it should also become illegal for a tech company to ban access to the internet. Many careers depend on reliable communication. Imagine the destruction when those services are removed.
Brazilian citizens told The Washington Post that their outrage toward the 48-hour ban was merited. The protests of thousands of Brazilians helped lift the court order. WhatsApp creator Jan Koum was thrilled that the voices of Brazil were heard by respected representatives, who made the right decision to restore the WhatsApp services. WhatsApp is not only popular in Brazil, but it also supports over 900 million users across the Middle East, reports The New York Times. It has even overshadowed the once-favored BlackBerry Messenger service. What makes WhatsApp so popular is the ability to text and make calls over a wi-fi connection for free. In a country where phone services are unreasonably expensive, this communication service has become a necessity.
The New York Times also reports that foreign officials have increasingly blocked American Internet services as a result of legal disputes. Google companies, such as Twitter and YouTube, have also been shut down in Turkey because of objectionable content. Schneier also wonders about when are people’s rights considered threatened? The WhatsApp shut down marks the beginning of cyber-security issues that demand resolution.
By Rowena Portch
Edited by Cathy Milne
HuffPost Tech: Brazil’s WhatsApp Ban Reveals A Big, Scary Problem For Everyone
The Washington Post: Brazil’s ban on WhatsApp is lifted less than 24 hours after it began
The New York Times: Brazil Restores WhatsApp Service After Brief Blockade Over Wiretap Request
Featured Image Courtesy of JESHOOTS’ Pixabay Page – Creative Commons License