(Adds details on WhatsApp’s comments about the decision, context)
By Gabriela Mello
SAO PAULO, June 25 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc’s fine for withholding WhatsApp messages from a drug-trafficking investigation in Brazil should be reduced to 23 million reais ($6 million), a Brazilian federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
The decision overturned a fine of around 2.035 billion reais ($528 million) imposed in June 2017, deemed disproportionate by the court.
In a statement to Reuters, a WhatsApp spokesperson welcomed the appeals court decision. “We care deeply about the privacy of our users and are grateful the Parana court affirmed the importance and legality of end-to-end encryption within Brazil. This significant decision will help safeguard the rights of people in Brazil to have safe and private conversations online.”
The world’s largest social network has struggled with legal troubles in Brazil in recent years.
In 2016, a senior Facebook executive was kept in a Brazilian jail for nearly 24 hours in what the company considered “an extreme and disproportionate measure” resulting from a dispute over a court’s demand to provide data from its WhatsApp service.
The messaging app also became the frontline in Brazil’s bitter presidential race last year, after newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported that supporters of far-right candidate and eventual victor Jair Bolsonaro had funded mass messaging attacks against leftist rival Fernando Haddad.
A few days before the election, Facebook removed dozens of pages and accounts associated with a Brazilian marketing group, for violating the social media network’s misrepresentation and spam policies.
WhatsApp has more than 120 million users in Brazil, a country of nearly 210 million people, rivaling the reach of Facebook’s main platform in one of the company’s biggest global markets.
The messaging service has become one of the main ways Brazilians keep in touch with friends, colleagues and family, and also an important channel for getting political information.
$1 = 3.8550 reais Reporting by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O'Brien