RIO DE JANEIRO – Police in Sao Paulo have arrested Facebook’s most senior executive in Latin America in the latest clash between Brazilian authorities and the social media company over its refusal to provide private information about its users to law enforcement.
A Tuesday news release says that Facebook’s vice-president for Latin America, Diego Dzodan, was arrested on an order from a judge in the northeastern state of Sergipe. Dzodan is accused of ignoring a judicial order in a secret investigation involving organized crime and drug trafficking.
The decision by Judge Marcel Montalvao follows the company’s refusal to surrender user information from the WhatsApp messaging service, an application Facebook bought in 2014.
Facebook said in a written statement released Tuesday that the two companies operate independently “so the decision to arrest an employee from another company is an extreme and unwarranted step”. WhatsApp said in its own statement that it had “co-operated as much as we could given the architecture of our service.” It said the company was “unable to provide information we do not have”.
But Monica Horta, a police spokeswoman in Sergipe, said that the arrest was made because neither Facebook nor WhatsApp responded to the request for information first issued four months ago. Two months ago, Montalvao started to fine the company 50,000 Brazilian reais ($12,700) for every day it ignored the order, an amount that rose to 1 million Brazilian reais ($250,000) daily over the past month.
Brazilian police argue that Facebook’s stance is at odds with Yahoo, Google and local telecommunications companies, which have been willing to hand over user information to help investigations.
A separate judicial order forced Brazil’s telecommunications companies in December to block WhatsApp over its refusal to co-operate with a police inquiry. The move snarled communications for many of its 100 million users in Brazil for around 12 hours. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the time said he was “stunned” by the “extreme decision”.
Brazilians are among the world’s most voracious users of social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Around half of the country’s 200 million people use WhatsApp.
This story corrects the Facebook vice-president’s last name to Dzodan.