Why A Facebook Exec Was Just Arrested In Brazil

The case is similar to Apple's fight with the FBI.

03/01/2016 12:56 pm ET | Updated Mar 01, 2016
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Apple isn't the only tech company clashing with data-hungry authorities.

Brazilian police on Tuesday arrested Diego Dzodan, Facebook's vice president of Latin America operations, because the tech giant couldn't provide information from its WhatsApp messaging service. 

Authorities believed that WhatsApp messages could aid in a drug trafficking investigation, and Brazilian officials had previously issued a court order seeking the data in question. But there's a problem: WhatsApp doesn't actually store users' messages on its servers, so the company couldn't hand that data over.

"WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have," a spokesman told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "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."

WhatsApp is used by millions of people and employs end-to-end encryption, which means messages can be accessed only on the devices they're sent to and from. In other words, authorities can't read WhatsApp messages unless they're able to unlock and use a suspect's phone.

Sound familiar? The situation isn't too dissimilar from the case Apple and the FBI are set to argue in front of Congress Tuesday. Ultimately, it's about the relationship governments have with tech companies that create the products so many of us use to communicate every single day.

Facebook has cooperated with the Brazilian government many times in the past. In this case, though, the company has essentially locked a door and thrown away the key, which is precisely what Apple is trying to do with its iPhones.

There are a lot of questions surrounding situations like this -- and few easy answers. On the one hand, privacy advocates feel that innocent people are protected from the government when tech companies use such security measures. But others fear that potentially live-saving investigations are hindered when authorities can't get the data they need.

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