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Brazil arrests Facebook executive over WhatsApp data access

AFP archive

Brazilian police arrested the vice president of Facebook for Latin America on Tuesday after the social media giant refused access to data the authorities said was important in a drug probe.

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Diego Dzodan was arrested on an order from a judge in the northeastern state of Sergipe. He is accused of ignoring a judicial order in a secret investigation involving organized crime and drug trafficking.

Dzodan, an Argentine national, was arrested at his home in Sao Paulo and was being held pending questioning.

The decision by Judge Marcel Montalvao follows the company's refusal to surrender user information from the WhatsApp messaging service, an application owned by Facebook since 2014.

Facebook said in a written statement released Tuesday that the two companies operated independently "so the decision to arrest an employee from another company is an extreme and unwarranted step".

"Facebook has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have," the statement added.

The social networking giant also noted that the WhatsApp messaging service does not store content, which is encrypted by users at either end. 

Facebook, on the other hand, is archived and data can be provided on a case-by-case basis if requested by Brazilian law enforcement officers and approved by the company’s lawyers.

“Facebook has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have,” a company spokesman said.

‘Information we do not have’

WhatsApp said it had no technical means for cooperating with the Brazilian request for information.

"We are disappointed that law enforcement took this extreme step. 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."

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

A separate judicial order forced Brazil's telecommunications companies in December 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".

Brazilians are among the world's most voracious users of social media and mobile applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Around half of the country's 200 million people use WhatsApp for free messaging and phone calls.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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