Can WhatsApp Messages Be Legal Evidence? Used in Court?
By Trae Jacobs,
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WhatsApp is a popular encrypted third-party messaging app owned by Meta. Users can securely download the app to send messages and media over the internet.
In the United States, WhatsApp messages can be used as evidence in legal proceedings, provided that they are legally obtained and can be authenticated as to who sent the message.
Read on to learn more about WhatsApp messages and how they can be legally used in court!
How to Bring WhatsApp Messages to Court
To qualify for inclusion in legal proceedings, WhatsApp messages must be obtained in certain ways.
Legal evidence in the United States can include WhatsApp messages and be brought forth in court, though only if they are obtained through official legal channels and user identity can be proven.
So if they can be used in court, how can the WhatsApp messages be legally obtained?
How can WhatsApp Messages be Legally Obtained?
If it is determined that WhatsApp messages may be used in court or another legal capacity, there are several ways that these files can be officially obtained via WhatsApp, including:
- A legal subpoena
- A court order
- A search warrant
These items do not require user consent since they are asked for directly by the courts and obtained without user input.
In these cases, messages are obtained regardless of user consent.
Records can be obtained by law enforcement either through requests from WhatsApp or by cloud extraction, in which data can be accessed through forensic processes.
This typically comes into play when messages are stored on third-party servers. This is not easy for law enforcement to access, but something to consider when backing up messages.
User-Supplied WhatsApp Messages
Users may submit WhatsApp messages as evidence, with their consent. This submission type does not require the consent of the other person(s) on the message chain.
Messages submitted by app users must also meet the qualifications for inclusion outlined above.
Users can elect not to submit their WhatsApp messages on their own, but that does not mean that the courts will not request them in an official capacity.
Text Messages in Court Precedent
As digital communication has risen, so must occasionally obtain digital chat files for use in a court of law.
These messages are considered to be recorded conversations, which have long been used as evidence in legal proceedings.
Recently, text messages have been used in court cases related to December 6, 2021, post-Roe vs. Wade in 2022, President Trump’s insurrection, and the Aaron Hernandez criminal case.
Case cases where WhatsApp messages have been used specifically include Wells and Solari v PNC Global Logistics and Forse & ors v Secarma Ltd.
These are only some more recent high-profile examples of court cases.
Since the early 2000s, transmissions like WhatsApp messages have been used in many court cases in and out of the U.S.
WhatsApp Messages in Courts Internationally
The use of WhatsApp messages as admissible evidence in court varies from country to country. Like the U.S., India is one such country where messages can be legal evidence.
Though WhatsApp and other text messages can be used as evidence in the United States, this is not the case in other countries worldwide.
Other countries may have specific regulations regarding when and where messages took place, what was said in relation to court cases, and how they can be obtained.
The best way to ensure that your WhatsApp messages can and cannot be used in legal proceedings is to consult a lawyer in the country in question.
When Can WhatsApp Messages be Used as Legal Evidence in Court?
WhatsApp messages cannot be requested or submitted as evidence in a court case without a clear relation as legal evidence to the case at hand.
Situations in which a WhatsApp message may be needed in court may include:
- A personal injury case
- A family law proceeding
- A court case related to national security
- A defamation case
- Trafficking-related cases
WhatsApp messages cannot be viewed by third parties, including the app platform, and are not accessible unless they are legally requested.
Requests for WhatsApp messages can also be directed to the app user, who may be able to provide this information from their records and history within the platform.
Keep reading to learn more about WhatsApp encryption!
WhatsApp Encryption and Message Storage
Many people prefer to use WhatsApp to send messages because it is an encrypted service, meaning only the message sender and receiver can read it.
When using WhatsApp, users do not need to toggle settings to ensure message security. This feature is built standard into the platform.
Many also like to use WhatsApp because it works on different mobile phone platforms, including the iPhone iOS and Android operating systems.
WhatsApp messages are stored on your mobile phone’s memory.
You can also adjust settings so that messages are uploaded to Google Drive or iCloud or export the messages as a .txt file.
WhatsApp Encrypted Backup
WhatsApp users also have the option to turn on end-to-end encryption backup, which ensures that you are the only one who can access past chats. Follow these steps to turn this feature on:
- Tap the gear icon to access the settings menu
- Select the “Chats” option that appears with the WhatsApp icon of a phone inside a text bubble
- Tap “Chat Backup”
- At the bottom of the menu, tap the “End-to-end Encrypted Backup” option
- Select “Turn on”
Deleting WhatsApp History
WhatsApp users can delete their conversation history for themselves and the other participants in the chat. Once a chat is deleted, it will not be available to users.
However, it is important to note that deleted chats can be restored from a previous system backup. As long as a chat is backed up, it can be accessed.
To access previously deleted chats, uninstall and reinstall WhatsApp on your phone. When you sign back in, you can restore your chat backups through an immediate in-app pop-up message,
If you want to ensure that your message is deleted forever, you can delete your backup files on the app, your phone, and any external storage solutions such as Google Drive or iCloud.
Even if you delete a chat for all participants and it is not in your backup, it can still be restored from others’ backups and used as evidence in court if requested or submitted.
Per their terms and conditions, WhatsApp may also retain records if they believe that messages could harm others.
Because they can be considered a conversation, WhatsApp chats can be used as evidence in a court of law in the United States.
These messages may be accessed for legal proceedings by the message participant or app user or as a result of a formal legal request.