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Appeal halts Brazilian judge's order to suspend WhatsApp

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A Brazilian judge order to suspend WhatsApp has been halted by an appeal, according to O Globo. The suspension was first ordered on February 11th after an ongoing investigation in which WhatsApp apparently declined to assist law enforcement, but was immediately appealed by WhatsApp, and after weeks of legal wrangling the company seems to have come out on top.

The judge maintained that WhatsApp was legally required to turn over the information, but decided a full suspension was too harsh a penalty. "The suspension measure of WhatsApp services does not meet the requirement of proportionality," the judge wrote in his decision. Most importantly, the service appears to be operating normally within the country. "We are not currently suspended in Brazil," a WhatsApp representative told The Verge.

Because of WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption, only users have access to the encryption keys for private conversation, and the company cannot hand over transcripts even when legally compelled to do so. Still, WhatsApp hotly contested the claim that encryption was at issue in the case, stating flatly, "this is not about encryption."

Still, the ruling seems to have been a boon to the app's encrypted competitors, possibly because of mistaken reports that the app had been successfully blocked. Telegram, which also offers end-to-end encryption, reported 2.5 million new users with as many as 100 signups per second in the hours after the order was served.

WhatsApp has no offices in Brazil, so it was left to cellphone operators to enforce the block, and it's unclear how they would have proceeded from a technical standpoint if the order succeeded. At the same time, the Facebook-owned application is already expanding onto the web, where such blocks are far more difficult to enforce. Today, the company expanded its web client to work on Firefox and Opera, in addition to the Chrome version, which launched last month.

5:58pm ET: Updated to correct the state of the suspension order, and include a statement from WhatsApp.