clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Was a Facebook Executive Arrested in Brazil? Encryption.

WhatsApp's encryption is generating problems in Brazil.

Kurt Wagner / Re/code

Facebook and its messaging service WhatsApp have thrown their support behind Apple in its battle over user privacy with the U.S. government. But this issue is not just an American issue, and the United States will not be the only important battleground for companies whose business models rely on user security and privacy.

Case in point: Facebook executive Diego Dzodan was arrested by Brazilian police Tuesday morning on his way to work for the same reason Brazilian authorities succeeded — albeit temporarily — in having WhatsApp banned from the country back in December: Encryption.

Dzodan — who is still detained at the time of this writing — was arrested because of Facebook’s “repeated non-compliance with court orders,” according to a police press release.


What does that mean? Brazilian authorities have requested that WhatsApp hand over user messages in multiple criminal investigations over the past few months, and WhatsApp repeatedly claims that it can’t hand over those messages because it doesn’t have them.

That’s because WhatsApp messages are encrypted, which means they exist on users’ phones but not on any Facebook or WhatsApp-owned servers.

“WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have,” the company said in a statement. “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 [to arrest Dzodan].”

The fact that companies have created technology that lets people communicate privately has been a major issue in the United States (see: Apple vs. FBI). But what is often overlooked is that these companies — Facebook, Apple, Google — are global, and that encryption and device security will continue to be an issue in countries outside the U.S.

Brazil is obviously concerned with it. India, too, is thinking about encryption. Those markets are, perhaps not coincidentally, Facebook’s two largest outside the United States, which means pressure will be on companies to do a better job explaining their technology to government officials around the world. Right now, there’s clearly a disconnect.

The battle over user privacy in the U.S. is close to home and could certainly set a precedent, but it also seems clear that these types of battles won’t be contained by U.S. borders. The arrest of a Facebook executive in Brazil on Tuesday is a reminder of just that.

We’ll update this story once we hear that Dzodan has been released.

This article originally appeared on