May 09, 2016

    Brazil judge may be penalised for issuing order to block WhatsApp


    JUDGE Marcel Montalvao joined some of Brazil's top politicians as one of the country's most-hated public figures when he ordered a 72-hour shutdown of Facebook-owned WhatsApp last week, abruptly cutting off the messaging service for some 100 million users.

    But none of the young women tapping away on the now-restored WhatsApp outside his courthouse in the small city of Lagarto were among the haters.

    Even as the judge prepared to rule on cases involving their loved ones, they expressed understanding for a man known locally as fiercely dedicated to fighting crime.

    "It was a pain at first," said Marcielle Santana, 26.

    "But you have to respect him. He's going after drug gangs, paedophiles."

    Mr Montalvao ordered Brazil's main telecom operators to block WhatsApp for 72 hours after it failed to produce messages supposedly traded between members of Brazil's most powerful drug gang.

    In March, he ordered the imprisonment of a Brazil-based Facebook executive for failing to comply with a previously attempted block on WhatsApp.

    WhatsApp officials have repeatedly argued they cannot turn over to judges material that they do not possess.

    The block of WhatsApp ignited such an outcry in Brazil that a congressional commission on Wednesday recommended a bill that would bar authorities from blocking popular messaging applications.

    Facebook's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg also weighed in, calling on Brazilians to demand that WhatsApp never be blocked again.

    Nancy Andrighi, a minister at Brazil's National Council of Justice, a federal watchdog over judges, on Tuesday gave Montalvao two weeks to explain his decision to block WhatsApp.

    If the council finds that he abused his power, it could take disciplinary action against him.