BY KEVIN CABRERA — Snapchat is a mobile application which allows the user to send pictures or videos through your device to another Snapchat user. The receiver is allowed to access the media for only as long as the sender allows and then the media cannot be accessed again. This new app has become the craze among teenagers and twentysomethings around the globe. There are about 50 million people accessing the app; the average user of Snapchat is 18.
Over the past decade social media has become a controversial issue, specifically when it came to litigation in the court room. “What you post on social media–the good, the bad, the inappropriate–stays there forever.” That was the beauty of Snapchat. There is no need to worry about a prospective employer seeing what you are sharing to your friends, or having your information stored somewhere and the World Wide Web for anyone to find. Once a “snapchat” is sent, the sender can be assured that within a few seconds the media will be inaccessible to anyone. Is that so?
In October of 2013, Snapchat released on their blog that, having received a dozen search warrants from officials, they were compelled to turn over unopened snaps. The sure way to stop your snaps from being seen is to make sure they are opened. According to Snapchat, when a snap is sent to someone, the media is stared on a Google cloud. Once the snapchat is opened by the receiver, the media is automatically deleted from the Snapchat server. However, snaps that are unopened are never erased from the server and can therefore be subject to search and seizure. This is allowed through the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (EPCA).
The EPCA is an update to the Wiretap Act of 1968 and protects the intentional interception of communication by any other person. There is an exception to the Act which states, “A judge may issue a warrant authorizing interception of communications for up to 30 days upon a showing of probable cause that the interception will reveal evidence that an individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a “particular offense””. This can be harmful towards Snapchat users that believe they are committing the act of sharing personal, and in some cases very personal, photos and videos with other fellow snappers. The servers at Snapchat store unopened snaps for a total of thirty days before the snaps are deleted.
The only people that have access to retrieve any unopened snaps are the co-founder and CTO Bobby Murphy and Micah Schaffer, head of Snapchat Trust and Safety. I don’t think that is any kind of comfort that there are still people out there who can access pictures that are supposedly not to be seen by anyone other than the person receiving it, but apparently for most of the teen population it is good enough.
There is also a minor issue that applies mostly to Apple Iphones, but mainly any smart phone with the capability to take a screenshot. These users can take a screenshot of the snap sent to them. Now something that was supposed to be seen for mere seconds, is documented and saved in someone else’s drive. Snapshat does notify the sender when this happens but what good is that when the receiver already has the evidence?
The best thing to do to make sure your personal photos are not shared with anyone is simple, do not send any. For teenagers these days this might seem as an extemely harsh consequence. At the very least make sure that whomever you are sending the snaps to open them as soon as they can. Otherwise the snaps may be handed over to Uncle Sam and then an innocent attempt at fun can lead to something much more serious.
 Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 18 U.S.C. §2510-22 (1986)
 Id. at § 2518.