Snapchat Says It Won't Hand Over Your Photos Without Warrant

PHOTO: The Snapchat Inc. logo stands outside the companys headquarters on the strand at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Aug. 14, 2013.
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Snapchat's friendly ghost logo reflects its best quality: Any picture taken and sent through the app disappears a few seconds after the recipient opens it up.

But what happens if it never gets opened?

Micah Schaffer, Snapchat's officer of Trust and Safety, wrote a blog post on Monday to re-assure its users that the company won't hand over a user's photo without a court order.

Schaffer noted that the company is capable of manually retrieving photos before they get to their intended recipient. "A federal law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) obliges us to produce the Snaps to the requesting law agency," he said, though he added that they need a warrant to do so.

"The fact that the government needs to go the warrant route is a very positive thing for Snapchat users' privacy," said Bradley Shear, a lawyer who specializes in Internet privacy and social media. "The feds usually ask for a subpoena over a warrant, since it has a much lower level of requirement."

Snapchat says in its privacy policy that it can share information with legal processes or requests for information if it's in accordance with the law. However, Schaffer said that this rarely happens. "Since May 2013, about a dozen of the search warrants we've received have resulted in us producing unopened Snaps to law enforcement," he said. "That's out of 350 million Snaps sent every day."

While Snapchat may score highly in terms of privacy, it may not rank as high in terms of security. Richard Hickman, a digital forensics examiner at Decipher Forensics in Utah, revealed in April that the Android version of Snapchat maintains a record of Snapchat photos buried in the phone.

Police can issue warrants to seize a person's phone, which in turn can be analyzed by security firms like Hickman's. "They've come to us and we helped them," he told ABC News. Hickman added that the method for unlocking Snapchat photos isn't unique to Decipher Forensics. "I posted the instructions on our website, so anyone else who has read those instructions can try and figure it out."

Snapchat did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

While Hickman hasn't tinkered with Snapchat much beyond his blog post, others have. A new app, called SnapHack Pro, lets users save Snaps to their iPhone photo gallery without letting the sender know. ABC News confirmed that the app works as intended.

"The bottom line is that people should be very careful with what they do online," said Shear. "You don't know whether the government will look into it, or if it'll just be posted all over the Internet."

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