What Happens When Law Enforcement Wants To Access Your Snapchats?

Snapchat

Want to use popular iOS app Snapchat as a way to communicate covertly within your criminal empire? In a new blog post, Snapchat Director of Operations Micah Schaffer explains how Snapchat handles requests from law enforcement agencies for Snaps. And there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news, as Schaffer explains, is that Snapchat is just as obliged to release your data to law-enforcement types under the right circumstances as any other company. However, because of the way Snapchat works — an image is only stored until it is viewed, then deleted forever — this only applies to Unopened Snaps.

So what is a circumstance when we might manually retrieve a Snap, assuming it is still unopened? For example, there are times when we, like other electronic communication service providers, are permitted and sometimes compelled by law to access and disclose information. For example, if we receive a search warrant from law enforcement for the contents of Snaps and those Snaps are still on our servers, a federal law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) obliges us to produce the Snaps to the requesting law enforcement agency. For more information, see the section of our Privacy Policy that discusses circumstances when we may disclose information.

So far, Schaffer says, Snapchat has produced unopened Snaps to law enforcement agencies “about a dozen” times. It has also been occasionally asked to preserved Snaps while a search warrant is pending.

What’s the lesson here? If you want to use Snapchat to send covert messages to your drug mule, make sure they open the message. An unopened Snap could very well get you thrown into prison.

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About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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