Brazil removes ban on WhatsApp after protests

A Brazilian judge has lifted a ban on WhatsApp after a lower court banned the messaging app for 48 hours, causing outages for millions of people in Brazil and neighbouring countries.

The messaging app is the most popular in the country, used by more than 100 million Brazilians, but was banned on Wednesday night for not complying with a criminal investigation. However, a judge ruled that it was “not reasonable that millions of users be affected by the inertia of the company”, and lifted the suspension.

It had been widely protested against by Brazilians on social media. The ban also led to the service going down for users in Venezuela and Chile. According to local reports, it particularly affects those on the Movistar telco network.

The original ban was imposed in relation to a third party, whose name was not revealed by the judge.

According to the Sao Paolo court: “Because WhatsApp did not respond to a court order of July 23, 2015, on August 7, 2015, the company was again notified, with there being a fixed penalty in case of non-compliance.

“As of yet the company did not attend the court order, the prosecution requested the blocking of services for a period of 48 hours, based on the law […], which was granted by Judge Sandra Regina Nostre Marques.”

This blockade comes on the heels of Brazil’s largest telecoms operators lobbying against WhatsApp in August, because it operates using standard mobile numbers, but offers free voice calling.

According to reports, major telcos have referred to WhatsApp as illegal, unregulated and a “pirate operator” – much like the battles that minicab disruptor Uber has been facing in cities around the world, ranging from Sydney to London.

For instance, an anti-terrorism bill – which has already passed through the House of Representatives and onto the Senate – threatens the right to social movements and protests.

Another bill that is labeled the Big Spy (“O Espião”) by critics would allow politicians to censor social media, and would require American technology companies like Facebook and Google to provide police with access to their data, under court orders.

This is despite the landmark Bill of Rights approved by President Dilma Rousseff last year, which promises to protect digital free speech, net neutrality and privacy on the web.

The Whatsapp ban has already shown major benefits for chat competitors.

For instance, encrypted chat app Telegram said on Twitter that more than 1.5 million Brazilian users had joined up since the ban came into effect.

Similarly Viber has said it has seen a 2000 per cent increase in usage by Brazilian users in 12 hours.

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