RIO DE JANEIRO — WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook, was shut down in Brazil on Monday after a court order from a judge who is seeking user data from the service for a criminal investigation.
Judge Marcel Maia Montalvão ordered telecom companies operating in Brazil to suspend WhatsApp nationwide for 72 hours. As of just after midday Monday, Brazilians said they could not use the popular messaging service.
The shutdown is the latest twist in a case that has embroiled WhatsApp in legal trouble. The case, which is under seal, involves an organized crime and drug trafficking investigation in the court in Lagarto, in the northeastern state of Sergipe. The court has been seeking data from WhatsApp to aid in the investigation. Diego Dzodan, a Facebook executive, was briefly taken into custody in March for refusing to comply with orders to turn over WhatsApp information in the case.
The judge who ordered WhatsApp’s shutdown on Monday is the same one who ordered Mr. Dzodan’s arrest. Mr. Dzodan was released after one night when a higher court judge said the arrest was “an extreme measure.”
“This decision punishes more than 100 million Brazilians who rely on our services,” a WhatsApp spokesman said of the shutdown, adding that the company had cooperated to the “full extent of our ability with local courts.”
The shutdown is the second time a Brazilian judge has ordered a nationwide ban of WhatsApp in the last few months. In December, a judge in São Paulo ordered telecommunications carriers to block WhatsApp for 48 hours because it had not complied with police eavesdropping requests in a separate criminal drug case.
An appeals court overturned the ban the same day it took effect, saying that “it was not reasonable” to suspend a service used by so many people simply because the company had not provided information sought by the courts.
A debate over law enforcement access to tech companies’ data has been raging. In the United States, Apple recently grappled with a court order asking it to help unlock an iPhone used by a terrorist. Apple refused, leading to a standoff with the United States government that was tabled when the F.B.I. found an alternate way into the device.
American tech companies and law enforcement are now sparring over access to digital data in other venues, including Washington, where many are lobbying over a new draft encryption bill released last month by Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
The full Congress is considering several of these proposals and could vote on them this week.
On Monday, Brazilians took to Twitter to lament the loss of WhatsApp, which is used there as much by professionals as by students. But some appreciated the respite. @IZATLEITE, a Twitter user, wrote, “now without WhatsApp, I’ll finally be able to read without being disturbed or interrupted.”