Can law enforcement view your Snapchat’s? I previously wrote about the possibility of using Snapchat for insider trading and how it would be possible with a warrant for law enforcement to gain access to Snapchat’s servers and view the messages (or snaps) in effort to build a case. Well, today, Snapchat wrote a blog post in an attempt to clarify exactly how and when law enforcement agencies can access your “self-destructing” messages.
According to a new blog post from Micah Schaffer, who handles matters pertaining to trust and safety at the company, Snapchat can only retrieve snaps that are unopened. Once a message has been viewed by its intended recipient, Schaffer says it’s permanently deleted from Snapchat’s Google-hosted cloud service. However, unopened snaps are different; they can be manually fetched by the company in response to certain law enforcement requests — and only such requests [read: warrants].
“Do we manually retrieve and look at snaps under ordinary circumstances? No,” Schaffer writes. “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.” Schaffer says that the company has received “about a dozen” of these warrants since May 2013.
In other words, he’s saying an extremely small percentage of snaps have made their way into law enforcements hands. Around 12 [in total] out of the 350 million snaps sent every day since May 2013. I have a strong feeling though that there is likely more illegal activity going on with Snapchat but most judges will not grant warrants for fishing expeditions, which would explain why the number is so tiny.
Nonetheless, according to Schaffer only two employees at Snapchat can access this retrieval tool: himself and co-founder / CTO Bobby Murphy. Snapchat certainly isn’t alone in its requirement to bend to law enforcement, but now more than ever it should be obvious that your snaps aren’t immune to snooping, particularly if your friends are slow when it comes to opening them.
While this isn’t really unexpected, all kinds of companies are required to provide information to law enforcement agencies if they have a warrant for it, it’s good to see Snapchat getting out in front of the issue. That being said, moral of the story? Make sure your friends open your snaps immediately or just don’t do anything illegal. Yeah, the latter is probably best.