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Facebook VP released from Brazilian prison as dispute over WhatsApp data continues

Updated 3-2-2016 by Lulu Chang: Facebook certainly carries some clout. Barely a day after being taken into custody in Brazil, Facebook vice president Diego Dzodan has been released. On Wednesday, a judge determined that the executive could be freed even as officials continue with their investigation regarding messaging app WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired back in 2014.

While Brazil has not divulged much information regarding the legal proceedings at hand, it is at least clear that Dzodan will not need to sit in a cell while the government deliberates. “He continues to respond to the process,” Luciano Andrade, a spokesman for the court in Aracaju in northeast Brazil, told the Washington Post. “The process is against Facebook, but as he is responsible for Facebook in Latin America the judge requested the imprisonment.”

Facebook origintally condemned the detention of Dzodan as an “extreme and disproportionate measure.” Brazilian authorities arrested the executive on Tuesday morning after the social network failed to obey a court order regarding its messaging app WhatsApp.

The dispute stems from a criminal investigation by local authorities in Sergipe into drug trafficking. As part of the inquiry, the police obtained a court order asking Facebook to hand over data from WhatsApp.

Facebook VP Diego Dzodan, via LinkedIn
Facebook VP Diego Dzodan, via LinkedIn

A spokesperson for the police in Sergipe told CNN that they sought Facebook’s help in a case that saw suspects use the company’s Messenger and WhatsApp platforms to communicate and orchestrate their crimes.

Despite renewing the court order three times over the course of four months, the police claim Facebook failed to comply, forcing them to make the high-profile arrest.

Meanwhile, two months ago the judge began fining the company 50,000 reals ($12,600) a day for non-cooperation. The fine was increased to 1 million reals ($253,000) last month. The warrant for Dzodan was then issued on February 7.

“We’re disappointed,” the company told CNN via email. “Facebook has always been and will be available to address any questions Brazilian authorities may have.”

Facebook claims that WhatsApp, which it acquired for $19 billion in 2014, is run independently. The popular messaging app — which is used by 86 percent of the Internet-connected Brazilian population — has issued a statement asserting that it is difficult for it to hand over data to the Brazilian authorities due to its robust encryption. Additionally, the app claims that it does not keep its data on a central server, making it even harder to comply with the order.

This isn’t the first time WhatsApp has come under fire in Brazil. In an unrelated case from last year, a judge ordered a temporary ban on the service following months of lobbying from local telecom firms, which had termed it “unregulated” and “illegal.”

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