Watch Your Naked Selfies—Snapchat Can Turn Photos Over to Government"

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 15 2013 4:09 PM

Watch Your Naked Selfies—Snapchat Can Turn Photos Over to Government

People sending nude selfies using Snapchat might want to think again. The photo app company has admitted it can access unopened snaps—and turn them over to law enforcement.

In a blog post published Tuesday, Snapchat’s Micah Schaffer revealed that since May the company has turned over unopened snaps to the authorities on about a dozen occasions in response to search warrants. “Only two people in the company currently have access to the tool used for manually retrieving unopened Snaps, our co-founder and CTO, Bobby [Murphy] (who coded it), and me,” Schaffer says.

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The number of photos turned over to the cops is minimal when compared with the 350 million Snapchat says it processes every day. But the issue of whether the company could access the images has been a topic of intense interest among fans of the free app, which is notoriously used to send explicit photos.

In response to speculation on the issue earlier this year, Snapchat said that it stored unopened photos on its servers for 30 days before deleting them. Once a user opens a snap, it will automatically delete after a set time and is also removed from the Snapchat server. However, Snapchat’s guide for law enforcement states that it can “preserve all available account information” for up to 180 days if a law enforcement agency serves it with a so-called “preservation request.” It can also turn over metadata including a log of the last 200 sent or received snaps and, we now know, copies of unopened photos, too.

It’s unclear whether the photos, while stored on Snapchat’s servers, are strongly encrypted to secure them from hackers. Either way, the feds can get the images with a search warrant. So, as Snapchat has previously said, you might want to “keep that in mind before putting any state secrets in your selfies."

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports on surveillance, security, and civil liberties.

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