IMAGE: Anton Brand — 123RF

What to do with judges who have no idea about what’s going on?

A Brazilian judge has ordered the country’s telecommunications providers to block WhatsApp, which is used by more than 100 million people in the South American country, denying an appeal by the company against this highly disproportionate move.

The reason for the block is WhatsApp’s refusal to hand over data regarding conversations by users accused of drug trafficking. The problem is that even if it wanted to, since introducing end-to-end encryption, it simply cannot supply details of conversations because it cannot access them: they aren’t just encrypted, they’re not even stored on its own servers.

The move has been taken by the same judge, Marcel Maia Montalvão, who back in March ordered the arrest of the head of Facebook’s Brazilian operations for also refused to supply account information about people accused of drug trafficking. It would seem the WhatsApp affair is related to the same case.

Obviously, the judge is not only obsessed with the company to such a degree it has affected his impartiality, but he has also completely overreacted and displayed a total inability to understand this key technology: he should be removed from his post immediately.

In cases like these involving judges with so little understanding of technology that they assume a company is hiding something from justice, the sensible thing would be for them to ask for some advice. But if they don’t, and simply think they have the right to interfere in the lives of a hundred million people in this way, what is to be done?

In essence, what this caveman is proposing is cutting the phone lines of a hundred million people, imposing fines on telecoms providers of $142,000 a day if they fail to comply.

The judicial authorities in Brazil and everywhere else, have a responsibility to keep judges up to date on technology. A judge who thinks he or she can simply order a company to cut a service to one hundred million people is clearly not thinking properly and only serving to bring into disrepute the judicial system he or she supposedly upholds.

Can a judge really do his or her job in this day and age if they don’t understand the world we now live in and how it works? Can a judge do his or her job if they are clearly biased toward a particular company and determined to bring it to heel?

Surely what Brazilian society needs to do is to interpret this latest move as proof that this judge is no longer impartial and either educate him or remove him from his post. After all, why should judges be exempt from continuing the learning process throughout their career?

One hundred million people prevented from communicating by the means of their choice just because a judge cannot understand that what he is asking a company to do is literally impossible. Once again Brazil shows that it is the country of the future, and always will be.

(En español, aquí)