How Much Digital Privacy Do You Really Have?

Parry Aftab, a privacy and Internet safety lawyer, answered "Good Morning America " viewers' questions about digital privacy. From e-mails to texts and instant messages Aftab explains why your personal correspondence may not remain private.

Question: Are the chat conversations on Facebook recorded somewhere, like the texts are on your cellular phone?

Parry Aftab's Answer: Facebook has a cell phone application that allows you to converse on Facebook on your cell phone. If you use that the application will store those communications on your cell phone.

If you are doing it from your computer, then Facebook stores those communications, and it depends on what kind of communications they are as to how long they hold them.

I am on the Facebook advisory board, and people need to understand that there are always three people on every conversation on Facebook; you, the person you are talking to and the Facebook server. If you delete your end of the conversation, there are still two copies: the Facebook server until Facebook deletes and the person you are talking to. So you need to understand that a simple deletion will only delete one piece of it.

Think of it as making photocopies, every time someone else is involved in the conversation there is a photocopy. To complicate things further if you are using a work computer, then the network server at work will back up your communication. So even if your part of the conversation is done and you delete it on your computer, the other person deletes it from his or her Facebook page and it is past the time that Facebook keeps its data, your boss may have a backup on the server.

Question: How long do telephone companies keep text messages on file? I am going through a divorce and am afraid of my husband requesting that my text messages be opened.

Parry Aftab's Answer: It depends on the cell phone company. They do not keep text messages as long as companies keep instant messages and e-mails because there are so many.

Text messages are generally not kept by the cell phone company for more than two weeks. That said if they are on your cell phone or if the person you are texting has them on his or her cell phone it is the same photo copy concept. You have to find all of the copies, not just how long the phone company keeps them. And you have to remember that they may have been printed out, saved on a computer or stored somewhere.

And to add one level of complication, when you are texting sometimes you are probably also calling that person. So although the company will not have records of the words you are saying, it will have a record of the phone numbers.

In a divorce the first thing a divorce lawyer will do is subpoena the phone records and subpoena the person he/she has called to testify about the affair.

Question: Can instant messages through e-mail addresses be retrieved and copied?

Parry Aftab's Answer: Although I am not exactly sure of your question, let me answer what I think you meant to ask. Both instant messages and e-mails leave trails of cyber bread crumbs and can be subpoenaed from the IM and e-mail providers. E-mails are typically kept for up to six months and more. So if you are doing something you don't want others to see, the simple answer is either don't do it or don't do it in writing, digital or otherwise.

Question: I heard this morning that even though texts have been deleted they can still be retrieved. How can I have my lawyer look into this? I am in the middle of a divorce. My husband was involved with another woman. …I found two texts on his phone.

Parry Aftab's Answer: You need to have your lawyer call the cell phone provider and ask that question of it. It differs from provider to provider. He or she should ask how the data can be retained before anything else. If you demand that the cell phone company retain data for longer periods of time, then its normal deletion cycle won't apply.

But people need to recognize something -- in the United States it is less about how long and who cheated and more about the duration of the marriage and equitable rights of property. So proving who did what in an affair is going to be less important to a judge than the duration of the marriage and who contributed to the income and assets of that marriage.

While you need to talk to a matrimonial lawyer to get advice, if it is a long-term marriage, the judge is more likely to split assets down the middle. If it is a short-term marriage, the courts look more to the specifics of who earned what and who contributed what.

Decades ago it was more about who was the bad guy; now it is more of a business decision.

You may want to spend more time healing and finding new ways to build a new life than searching for dirt.

Question: I would love to know how you can get all the phone conversations from the cell phone that my husband made to his girlfriend and she made to him, what was really said. I have all dates and times from the phone bill. He said I cannot get them. I just would love to know for myself and peace of mind. Please help me, and I can finally put it to rest in my mind and heart, thank you.

Parry Aftab's Answer: Unless there is special technology, spyware technology, already implanted in the phone, you won't be able to retrieve actual phone conversations. Those are gone with the wind. Typed text messages can be retrieved depending on your cell phone carrier and how long it keeps them. You have to act quickly and through a knowledgeable legal counselor to demand that the data is retained long enough for legal request to be served.

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