You’ve likely heard of Snapchat. Perhaps you’re enamored of the online app and often interact with it via your smartphone. Snapchat enables users to transmit videos and pictures that disappear once viewed.
The company of course applauds consumers’ enthusiasm. Snapchat’s website prominently touts the app as “The fastest way to share a moment!”
But with whom?
Here’s a piece of information imparted recently by investigative magazine Reason that we suspect many readers of our Hilder & Associates criminal defense blog might find concerning, if not flatly troubling.
That is this: Despite what most Snapchat users might believe, the company will release user data to law enforcement bodies if it believes it is reasonable to do so.
A similarly liberal-release policy is also in force for many other app providers, ranging from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to Uber, Netflix and other key digital-service providers.
Reason reports that only three states impose a warrant requirement on police agencies that seek to obtain app-tied data from such companies. Texas is not on that notably short list.
In fact, all that authorities in Texas and every state (excepting California, Utah and Washington) need to do to obtain users’ app data and history is to ask for it via a subpoena.
And that is critically important to note, given that a subpoena – unlike a warrant – does not impose a probable cause requirement on authorities seeking to gather potentially incriminating evidence.
Privacy advocates understandably voice material concerns regarding the pronounced susceptibility of consumers’ private information to public scrutiny. One of them underscores users’ lack of knowledge concerning “the reach that private companies and law enforcement have on their information.”
People who routinely use apps might reasonably want to think about that reach to fully understand the potential audience that is privy to their online behavior.