When Brazil was without WhatsApp for a few hours

Crying teenagers, desperate mothers, impatience, despair, rage, destroyed relationships, suicides.

All of that because a court in Brazil ordered that WhatsApp should be blocked for 48 hours. So people actually had to send e-mails to each other, to talk on the phone, or, heaven forbid, to talk in person instead of sending messages with lots of yellow faces and LOLs.

But then it got worse: Most people on the internet, and some media even, blamed competing telephone operators for the ban. Others blamed President Dilma Rousseff, others blamed Congress, and so on. “Censorship”, “human rights”, “freedom”, “net neutrality”, “dictatorship” and other big words were thrown around. The left blamed the right, the right blamed the left, some crazies called for a military coup, silly comparisons with Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea popped up.

All of this was wrong, unfounded, and often outright manipulative. What had really happened? In a criminal investigation, a Brazilian court had asked WhatsApp to turn over transcripts of conversations between suspects. WhatsApp had refused. The court passed an order on 23 July 2015, ordering WhatsApp to comply. On 7 August 2015, the company was informed again of what would happen if they refused to comply. WhatsApp apparently reacted like the people who think that nothing happens to them if they don’t open the mail from the court or the bailiff. After waiting more than another four months, the court reacted with its decision.

Legally, that decision seems acceptable. In any case, it’s no violation of anyone’s freedom of speech because you can still say and write what you want in person, over the phone, in writing and indeed over hundreds of other internet applications. It was funny to see all those highly agitated people getting all hyped up about “internet censorship”, not noticing the irony that they could still write, read and publish whatever they wanted. I also didn’t understand how anyone thought that this was a ban of WhatsApp as a business model. If so, why would it have been limited to 48 hours?

Maybe non-lawyers should generally exercise caution when commenting on court rulings, but many commentators didn’t even live up to the lower standards of logical thinking. The main benefit of the decision was to see who just speculates, makes up stuff, agitates or is outright dumb (96.2 %) and who is interested in the facts and in a genuine debate (3.8 %). Because this effect was achieved within a few hours, another judge lifted the ban before the 48 hours had elapsed.

But by then, Brazilians, the majority of whom apparently understand more about technology than about law or politics, had already found an alternative.

WhatsApp telegram

The telegram? Yes, the good old telegram! Because in 1890, the Brazilian government had the foresight to establish telegraph lines across the whole country, all the way into the Amazon rainforest and to Bolivia and Peru. This effort was led by Cândido Rondon, who as a positivist believed that technological progress would unite the country. This went so far that he took a gramophone with him to play the Brazilian national anthem to indigenous tribes, who often came in contact with the Brazilian state for the first time.

Throughout his life, Rondon laid more than 4,000 miles of telegraph lines, most of them in hitherto inaccessible areas. When his work was completed after 24 years, the radio had been invented, putting the telegraph lines largely out of business before they could barely start operating. Long ridiculed for his efforts as the Don Quixote of positivism, this week finally brought vindication for Rondon.

Candido Rondon

“I told you we will need telegrams again one day!”

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Brazil, History, Law, Politics, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to When Brazil was without WhatsApp for a few hours

  1. kaschikala says:

    lol, nice telegram app bashing

  2. cecilia says:

    The judge of 1ª stage, asked to Facebook, owner whatsapp app, information and details about a extremely dangerous user, associated with the Drugs Trafficking and criminal faction as the PCC (First Command of the Capital), which was in a criminal investigation very long and serious.
    The judge asked for this information in July 2015. In August 2015, she asked again (very patient) Facebook still became silent,. So, like the company was still “given a shit”, this judge, based in a “Marco Civil de Internet – Lei 12.965/2014,” she determined that all cellular operators in Brazil bloked the whatssap app for 48 hours, like as a punishment for breach of order. (this law gave her this power! Its legal, completly)
    However, this blocked lasted no more than 12 hours because one of the mobile oporator offered a defense as preliminary matter, askin the unblock, in the São Paulo Court of Justice (superior court), which decided to change the decision of the first Judge who ordered the release,so he decided: Ipsis litteris: (after google translater..of course): “in light of constitutional principles, not Reasonable shows that millions of users are affected as a result of the company’s inertia”.
    Some people believes (specially the owner of these operator of cellfone) that the decision of this first judge was disproportionate, because it reached millions of people who have nothing with the case.
    This decision is not defenitive still. So, like you can see, its nothing about money or became this service be payed, like some was speculating. But the true is that this figth betwen justice and internet (social networks / facebook and etc), wont to done so soon.

  3. Dante says:

    I already said that our civilization should hold some “lowtec” for surviving some events like a solar strom – not because it won’t be damaged but because it will be much easier to repair. Otherwise we are all sitting on a time bomb – or, more vintage speaking, under Damocles’ sword because a solar storm like the 1859 one can always happen again, and whereas it did not cause much harm then, it would now cause the collapse of the civilization and indirectly kill hundreds of millions of people.

    • Dante says:

      I certainly meant a solar s t o r m.

    • I agree. We have become rather dependent on this modern stuff.

      The last three days I was hiking in the Vali do Pati in Chapada Diamantina in Brazil, where people live without cell phone coverage, landline phones or internet. There are also no roads there, so communication is slow. I asked the guide how he announced that our group would come to stay the night. He said: “Either I cannot tell them in advance at all and have to hope that they have a place available, or I call one of their relatives in town and hope that they ride out here by horse or donkey before we show up.”

      I didn’t miss internet or phones for one minute.

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