Brazil police detain Facebook executive over court orders

Federal police in Brazil apprehended the vice president of Facebook Inc for Latin America on March 1.
Federal police in Brazil apprehended the vice president of Facebook Inc for Latin America on March 1. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Federal police in Brazil apprehended the vice president of Facebook Inc for Latin America on Tuesday (March 1) after the company failed to cooperate with judicial orders related to its WhatsApp messaging service in a drug-trafficking investigation.

Court officials in Sergipe state confirmed the detention of Diego Dzodan and police said he remained in custody for questioning in Sao Paulo state.

Facebook called the detention an "extreme and disproportionate measure," adding in an emailed statement that the company "has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have."

Privacy concerns have frequently put Facebook and other Internet giants at odds with Brazilian law enforcement seeking evidence in criminal cases, although the confrontations rarely rise to the prominence of Apple Inc's current standoff with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In December, a judge suspended Facebook's popular WhatsApp phone-messaging service in Brazil for about 12 hours after it failed to comply with two court orders to share information in a criminal case.

At the time Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said he was "stunned that our efforts to protect people's data would result in such an extreme decision."

WhatsApp is installed on nearly 93 per cent of Android devices in Brazil, making it the most common app in the country, according to SimilarWeb, an Internet marketing company.

Yet WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired for US$22 billion in 2014, has no executives in Brazil and has said it only holds messages on servers until they are delivered.

"WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have. We cooperated to the full extent of our ability in this case," a spokesperson for the messaging service said in an email.

Social media companies and other Internet firms have faced mounting pressure from governments around the world to block content in accord with local laws and turn over customer information for law enforcement and intelligence operations.

Turkey, for example, has repeatedly blocked Twitter Inc and fined the company for illegal content.

US prosecutors routinely seek court orders demanding that social media companies turn over information.

Facebook received 17,577 requests from US law enforcement in the first six months of 2015, according to the company's most recent transparency report. In Brazil the number was 1,265. It was not clear how many requests were related to WhatsApp.

Brazilian courts in particular have not shied away from targeting senior tech officials.

In 2012, an elections court in Mato Grosso do Sul ordered the detention of Google's most senior executive in Brazil after the company failed to take down YouTube videos attacking a local mayoral candidate.