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

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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.