For The Third Time, Whatsapp Blocked (And Then Unblocked) By Brazilian Judges For Failing To Decrypt

from the we've-seen-this-before dept

What's up with Brazilian judges not understanding Whatsapp? In the last few months, judges keep freaking out that Whatsapp messages are end to end encrypted, and that the company is unable to decrypt them at all. On Tuesday morning, the news broke that Judge Daniela Barbosa had ordered Whatsapp blocked yet again, along with a $50,000 per day fine until it decrypts information that it cannot decrypt. While various ISPs set about blocking the extremely popular app, as with the previous times, it took only a few hours for a higher court to suspend Barbosa's ruling, and to make the app available again.

Of course, this is the third time that Brazilian courts have done this particular dance. It happened in December and again in May. And who can forget the time in March where a Brazilian judge ordered a Facebook exec arrested over the same issue (Facebook owns Whatsapp).

Whatsapp's founder/CEO Jan Koum called the latest news "shocking," noting how these blocks had been rejected "loudly" in the past. Given how widespread this news was, as well as the basic architecture of Whatsapp, making it impossible to decrypt messages, it makes you wonder just what Brazilian judges think they're accomplishing each time they do this. Do they think they're sending a message to Facebook/Whatsapp? If anything, it just looks Brazil and its judicial system seem backwards and out of touch.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 4:18am

    it just looks Brazil and its judicial system seem backwards and out of touch.

    Actually I was quite pleased by the speed the Supreme Court shot down the blockade. It wasn't a higher court, it was the equivalent of SCOTUS. There's a good chance they will actually release what we call a 'binding precedent' to prevent further blockades while there isn't specific laws or regulations dealing with it.

    The issue now is that there are morons trying to do exactly what Russia did to make the messages available to the justice (along with mandated 'backdoors' and making the company have a physical presence in the country). It's not surprising at all when you see what politicians are saying elsewhere (including Russia and the US). This shitty generation could die already and leave us alone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 5:09am

      Re:

      It's not a generational thing, it's a combination of people who don't understand tech being in charge of tech judgements, alone with political/spying reasons to put the onus on others. They may not know that they're demanding the impossible, but even people using WhatsApp don't necessarily understand the arguments here. It's not age so much as ignorance, wilful or otherwise, and that's not going to be fixed by older judges dying off.

      The fix is for the courts to become tech savvy and for politicians to be dissuaded from demanding the impossible because it sounds good. Good luck with either of those, especially as tech routinely outpaces law by years, if not decades.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 5:43am

        Re: Re:

        True enough, there is plenty of ignorance. But, really, how clearer whatsapp could be after they told that it is technically impossible for them to do what the court requested? Maybe they should have made some sort of comparison like "this is akin to asking us to unblow a dynamite stick" or something? In the US they came with the "nerd harder" solution to impossible tasks.

        Still, it would do a lot of good if an specific generation died off. Then again they may be saying the same about mine in the future, who knows.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 6:10am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Oh, they will, as the older ones said of their parents and the grandkids of the current younger one will say of theirs. That's human nature. But, being older doesn't mean ignorant or scared of technology, it's just that some older people find it hard to adjust. But, then so do some younger people. older people can often be the ones holding a majority of the power, but the mindsets don't necessarily change.

          Half the people who invented the technology you're talking about are in the older generation, while some of the people pushing for impossible or unacceptable laws in the US are of the generations below. It would be good to get some Luddites off the bench, but age isn't the only factor.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          anonymous me, 20 Jul 2016 @ 6:11am

          Re: old but still here

          Although I am of that generation, my thoughts and beliefs don't fit in with the judge's. Nowhere near. And there are many others like me. (Hello.) I'm sorry you wish me dead just because I'm old but I plan to live forever. So far, so good.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Ninja (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 8:06am

            Re: Re: old but still here

            Heh, don't get me wrong, my parents are there and I don't want them dead (I successfully got them out of a lot of ignorance!!!). But like you, many of the people in that age range actually agree with me. It's just the rotten part that managed to entrench themselves in power positions, political or financial.

            I'm generalizing but not that much ;)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2016 @ 10:31am

              Re: Re: Re: old but still here

              Well, I admit it is a relief to think that perhaps I don't have to immediately die to make the world a better place. It did sound like that's what you believed when you wrote: "This shitty generation could die already and leave us alone." Though I do know that with the printed word, it can be difficult to distinguish hyperbole from deeply held convictions.

              You successfully got your parents out of a lot of ignorance, did you? :-) They likely did the same for you, yes? Sounds like a pretty good relationship, actually.

              One of my favourite parts of Techdirt is the comments. I always read yours with interest.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 6:54am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Actually - case in point, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole to find out the details. From what I've gathered, it seems that the judge is actually a female in her mid 40s, making her around the same age as the founders of WhatsApp. Take a step back, and you'll find that much of the cryptographic technology that WhatsApp uses was originally proposed or implemented by men in their 50s. This might be unclear as obviously I'm depending on Google translations and a search database polluted by a couple of major cases, but I'm reasonably confident the above is correct.

          So, you're probably arguing for some older gentlemen to die off because someone their junior is ignorant of the technology they created and which was implemented by someone in her demographic peer group. The older generation dying off will not help.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Ninja (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 8:15am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Yep, I agree. I'm not that dumb. I still maintain my idea. There are quite a few older people that could use some forced retirement to go live their senior years enjoying some wine or something. I just vented out 'violently'.

            The judge who suspended the blockade (Ricardo Lewandowski) is actually 68 years old and has a better understanding of the implications than the 40 yr old one. Not that I think he is good overall but that's a discussion for another time.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 7:15am

      Re:

      "This shitty generation could die already and leave us alone."

      This is a sentiment expressed by every generation about the older generations since man could start expressing sentiments. It's part of the whole thing about how every generation believes both that they invented sex and that they are witnessing the end of civilization.

      On the flip side, every older generation thinks that "the kids today" are lazy thugs (with terrible music) who represent the decline of civilization.

      Neither viewpoint has been correct yet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 8:23am

        Re: Re:

        Thankfully. I do think there are some periods that seem to generate some quite awful people. The baby boomers one seems to be one of those. Not that there aren't awesome people in the middle of it. I'm not alone here and there are other groups in different ages that seem to agree, sadly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 8:12am

      Re:

      This shitty generation could die already and leave us alone.
      Trouble is, it's not "that generation" that's responsible for the trouble. I'm actually meeting total luddites, technical idiots, nincompoops that have no idea about what's even mathematically possible, and they're all younger than me. And a lot more authoritarian.

      My generation is those that were teenagers when the Berlin wall fell. Apparently there's both an older generation of fuckwits that wants these walls again, like Trump, but also a younger one that's okay with them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 8:30am

        Re: Re:

        That's something that's worrying me. A lot of youngsters around their 20s are leaning more and more towards extremism. But then again if I think I was screwed by the establishment, they are in a much worse position.

        As for the "total luddites, technical idiots, nincompoops that have no idea about what's even mathematically possible, and they're all younger than me" I believe it's a result of many things the older generation is leaving behind and the current is failing to fix so far, specially when you are talking about education. Not failing but not fixing fast enough or with enough motivation. My generation could use more activism, more attitude. And I'm including myself there even though I try my best to inform people and do what I can.

        We desperately need to update our educational systems. While it doesn't happen I will do my best to plant seeds on the little heads so they will at the very least try not to be willfully ignorant.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 5:23am

    Malice or stupidity

    Do they think they're sending a message to Facebook/Whatsapp? If anything, it just looks Brazil and its judicial system seem backwards and out of touch.

    Either that or flat out willful ignorance.

    Either they know they're demanding the impossible but are doing it anyway to send a message to Whatsapp and any other company that uses effective encryption in an attempt to pressure them to switch to weaker/broken encryption, or they aren't even bothering to inform themselves on the subject they are ruling on, and thanks to their willful ignorance they have no idea that they are demanding the impossible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 20 Jul 2016 @ 5:59am

    Facebook is trustworthy?

    The spinning is here again as well. As far as know(heard) the request was to capture future messages, not decrypt past ones. And whatsapp did not respond with the technical issues, they sent a response in english(!!) which amount to basically 'we don't care'. This is not a kangaroo court from russia or a secret court from USA enforcing secret laws - its a regular court with a valid investigation(had evidence to start a investigation, the scope is limited). Facebook at this point is just mocking the judiciary(AFAIK). They should've answered in portuguese and explained why it can't be done. OR, LIKE, STOP routing the messages to their servers in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 Jul 2016 @ 6:09am

      Re: Facebook is trustworthy?

      Do you have any citations for your claims? "AFAIK" generally just means you're covering in case you're proven wrong, it's not a substitute for facts.

      "This is not a kangaroo court from russia or a secret court from USA enforcing secret laws - its a regular court with a valid investigation(had evidence to start a investigation, the scope is limited)"

      ...and whose decision was quickly overturned and their superiors confirmed the following (quote from the Forbes article):

      "The office of Brazil's attorney general reiterated its position that judges who suspend WhatsApp are incorrectly interpreting a 2014 law meant to update the legal framework for the internet."

      Whatever language the response was in, the issue seems to be the court not understanding the laws it's upholding. Maybe FB/WA could have been more accommodating to ridiculous demands that it's already explained were impossible, maybe not. But, don't pretend it's all on them.

      " OR, LIKE, STOP routing the messages to their servers in the first place."

      Whose servers? Are you suggesting that WhatsApp should simply have stopped providing its service to 100 million Brazilians without the court having to bother asking them? Or, is something else getting lost in translation here?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anon, 20 Jul 2016 @ 8:09am

        Re: Re: Facebook is trustworthy?

        >>Do you have any citations for your claims? "AFAIK" generally just means you're covering in case you're proven wrong, it's not a substitute for facts.

        And can also mean I'm too lazy to check right now. Maybe later.

        >>...and whose decision was quickly overturned and their superiors confirmed the following (quote from the Forbes article): [...]

        What was overturned was the punishment for not complying with the requests - not the investigation or the need of it. The ruling said the block hurts freedom of expression(Constitutional right) and the request require better knowledge(study) of what is possible or not. Which is the point i'm trying to get into. Facebook should explain why it could not do it for future messages.

        >>Whose servers? Are you suggesting that WhatsApp should simply have stopped providing its service to 100 million Brazilians without the court having to bother asking them? Or, is something else getting lost in translation here?

        Facebook/Whatsapp's Servers. The messages you send on the app goes to their servers. If they have a problem with being ordered to aid a investigation(with limited scope, this is not mass surveillance) by logging future message exchanges they can:
        * Explain they don't have this option on their system(I doubt. Since they even mess with links to competitors)
        * Stop recording every conversation and let the clients to send messages directly to each other. (Again, i don't if thats how it still works and i'm too lazy to do more research than read and comment in this article right now.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2016 @ 5:23pm

          Re: Re: Re: Facebook is trustworthy?

          Or they could just bash their head against the wall. It'll be as effective at convincing the idiotico politicos.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 20 Jul 2016 @ 10:56am

    Capitalism idiots and the 1%

    There is a whole lot of overlap on that particular ven diagram

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brazilian Guy, 20 Jul 2016 @ 12:24pm

    This time it wasn't one judge from the less developed states of the country, but a judge with some decent clout, who regularly deals with cases involving drug trade, corrupt police officers, illegal milita and human traffic. That's the reason the issue went to be shot down by a minister of the supreme court.

    While Whatsapp is widespread in Brazil, it isn't a public service, and it doesn't receive the legal immunities those would receive, any collateral effects caused by it's suspension, from the strict point of view of the brazilian law, is actually secondary to the merit of the judicial order of imposing the block - sure, the orders were suspended, but no judges received any sanction for them either.

    The truth is that both Facebook and Whatsapp have agreements with carriers to be exempt from data caps, so they users can access those services for "free". The judge should just had issued an order suspending the validity of those agreements, for both Facebook and Whatsapp, and block the financial accounts, like they would do with a bank or financial institution that refused to comply with a judicial order. Would have almost the same effect, even much of the same impact, but would be much harder for someone to argue that the judiciary was overreaching, since anyone could still use those services as long as they used their own data caps.

    About the technical feasibility, Whatsapp should just send the raw encrypted files, with logs of time/date sent by those users and to what numbers. If the police got the devices later, they could try to decode the message with the keys extracted from them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2016 @ 4:14pm

    Meanwhile in Rio de Janeiro pedestrians are being robbed in daylight. Blame encryption for that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2016 @ 12:19pm

    The judge is correct that Whatsapp can provide a backdoor

    Although the encryption is strong, the judge is correct that Whatsapp can provide a backdoor.

    The reason is threefold:
    1. The app is written by WA, it can rewrite it with a backdoor and push the upgrade. Just as what people acuse Microsoft of doing to Skype.

    2. The encrypted message goes through WA's servers; even if it doesn't backdoor the application, it sits on the only path that messages go through. Ideal for a Man-in-the-middle attack.

    3. The address book is maintained by WA. It can supply their own key for any party, something that most people wouldn't notice due to the fact that the app helps to hide this feat. Then WA decrypts it in transit and copies the Brazilian messages to Brazil.

    See: http://eccentric-authentication.org/blog/2016/07/17/end-to-end-encryption-is-useless

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Beetle Bailey, 26 Jul 2016 @ 9:37pm

      Re: The judge is correct that Whatsapp can provide a backdoor

      No

      If user a or company a wishes to have encrypted privacy between user b or company b - it is fact of the matter and clearly their right to have this ; without penetration by any outside source; government or otherwise. Plain and simple privacy rights demand it. Any middle man or constituents are in conspiracy to or in process of espionage and by law require them to be held accountable under the same laws as if a terrorist infiltrated their private systems.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Beetle Bailey, 26 Jul 2016 @ 9:40pm

        Re: Re: The judge is correct that Whatsapp can provide a backdoor

        No law is above the law; without tyranny and dictatorship as equal partners

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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