Can Police Obtain Disappearing Snapchat Pictures?

For at least some of its 100 million users, Snapchat is the go-to app for sending pictures that should never see the light of day. Want to send a nude selfie? Use Snapchat. Working on a drug deal? Use Snapchat. The pictures disappear so the evidence is gone. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

snapchat-logoThis week Snapchat unveiled its first Transparency Report – a rundown of all official government requests for user data and Snapchat’s response history – and the info might give some users pause.

For the period November 1, 2014 through February 28, 2015, Snapchat received 403 requests from government entities regarding user accounts, breaking down as follows:

  • 375 from the U.S.
  • 28 from foreign governments

Snapchat supplied some or all of the data requested in 92% of the U.S. cases and 21% of the foreign government cases.

If the pics disappear, you might be wondering what exactly the governments might be hoping to retrieve. It’s instructive to look at the most recent version of Snapchat Guide for Law Enforcement to see what is really happening.

  • Snapchat keeps (and can turn over) pics for 30 days in the event that they haven’t been viewed by all recipients
  • Snapchat retains records of meta data for all messages sent and received – to/from, date and time – but not the message content, and will turn over this data in response to a search warrant
  • Snapchat has the personal info that you supplied on file – user name, email address, phone number and the date the account was created

For furtive Snapchat users, the principal risk remains the chance that a recipient takes a screenshot of your picture, or otherwise manages to capture it before it is destroyed, then forwards that pic or posts it somewhere online. It is true, however, that Snapchat does have records that it will turn over to law enforcement – a fact that makes it an imperfect solution for covering your tracks if you are up to no good.

 

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