Facebook's Latin America vice-president Diego Dzodan was arrested by the Brazilian police on 2 March for refusing to comply with a court order on access to WhatsApp user data. The arrest, which Facebook described as an "extreme and disproportionate measure" comes as technology companies worldwide face growing pressure from international governments to provide access to user data for surveillance purposes.
Dzodan was detained by Sao Paulo police for refusing to provide information pertaining to a drug trafficking investigation.
Similar to the prosecution of Apple over its stand on encryption in the San Bernanrdino case, Facebook has now become the centre of attention for the Brazilian government, which has been consistently demanding that it provide access to WhatsAspp user data over a criminal investigation.
Facebook has already denied three previous requests made by Brazilian federal authorities. The Brazilian court first levied a daily fine of 50,000 reals (£9,000), which was then increased to 1m reals (£180,000). After failure to comply with the third request, Judge Marcel Maia Montalvao ordered the arrest of Dzodan. The information was needed as part "secret judicial investigations involving organised crime and drug trafficking", the the BBC quoted the judge as saying.
This is not the first time the Facebook-owned instant messaging service has landed in trouble with Brazilian authorities. In December 2015, a court had ordered a 48-hour suspension of WhatsApp's services over an eerily similar yet separate criminal investigation. The public outcry over the ban led to an overturning of the ruling.
A spokesperson for WhatsApp expressed disappointment over the arrest, stressing that the tech firm had cooperated with the authorities "to the full extent of our ability".
Facebook maintains that WhatsApp is a separate organisation and as such does not store user information, unlike its parent company. "We are disappointed with the extreme and disproportionate measure of having a Facebook executive escorted to a police station in connection with case involving WhatsApp, which operates separately from Facebook," the spokesperson said, the Guardian reported.