Is it Legal to Screenshot Text Messages for any Official Purpose?
Have you ever heard that there are no privacies on the net? Well to a great extent, this can be said to be true. Everything, including text messages, can be saved and used for different purposes. This begs the question “is it legal to screenshot text messages?” with the idea of litigation being sold out extensively in our present era, one needs to know the legal implication of all actions.
Recently, the concern about the legality of making a screenshot of a text message has been prominent in the social space.
Though this question has welcomed varied answers and opinions, it will be safe for anyone to explore these different verdicts and know what the place of the law on this issue is.
Hence, we are going to highlight the most relevant position about this issue and give you the chance to take a stand.
What is a Screenshot?
We wouldn’t want to assume that everyone knows exactly what we are talking about, so let us try to explain what a screen shot is. According to Wikipedia, A screenshot, also known as screen capture, or screen grab, is a digital image that shows the contents of a computer display.
Well, a screenshot is not just about the conventional computer, most digital devices and gadgets now support capturing the desktop or display area as a photo. As such, any content is displayed on the screen can be saved through screenshots; this includes text messages and any other content.
Therefore, screenshot refers to a photo capturing the contents that is being displayed on the screen.
How Text Messages can be used as Evidence in Court
You must have heard the line, “prove beyond all reasonable doubt”. This is a very critical point in legal matters.
Text messages are a great way to create a written record and avoid the he said, she said that often arises in family law cases.
Have an agreement to vary from the possession schedule? Screenshot. Want to notify someone about something important? Screenshot. Need to document an inflammatory statement? Screenshot.
Keep in mind – just because you have text messages does not mean that they are automatically admissible as evidence in court.
Text message conversations must contain relevant, admissible evidence and you must take steps to properly preserve the authenticity of the text messages or else you may not be able to use them as evidence.
How to Ensure that your Screenshot Text Messages is Legal Worthy
Like most pieces of evidence, text messages are not automatically admissible in court. You must ensure that they satisfy the requirements of the rules of evidence for your jurisdiction.
Three of the main reasons the court might exclude text messages are relevance, hearsay, and lack of authenticity. You should be prepared to prove that they are relevant, are not hearsay (or meet an exception to hearsay) and are authentic.
For a text message to be relevant, it must be “of consequence to the determination” of the case. For example, normally no one will care whether the child ate macaroni and cheese at lunch.
However, that message can be used to show who had possession of the child that day or if a parent is not following a child’s dietary restrictions. Whether a text message is relevant depends on the facts of the case.
Hearsay is an out-of-court statement made by an individual who is not a party to the case. Generally, hearsay is not allowed into evidence. Whether a text message is a hearsay is a little more complex.
A text message between you and the opposing party might not be considered hearsay by the court and can be used as evidence. Text messages between you and someone who is not a party to the case will likely not be admissible.
The court will want to know whether the text messages you are trying to admit are authentic. Are the messages between you and the person you are claiming? Have you deleted or altered any of the text messages?
Was the text message sent on the date that you are claiming? At the minimum, the following details should be visible in your text message documentation:
- The date and time that the messages were sent or received.
- The contact information for the other person.
Why You might Need to Screenshot a Text Message
The court reporter keeps exhibits used in hearings and trials as part of the court record. Unless you want to lose your phone forever or allow the court to review other places on your phone, you need to bring your text messages in a format that the court reporter can keep.
Typically, this means you need to have your text messages printed out. You can do so through screenshots of the text messages or through special programs or software.
Screenshots; One way to print your text messages is through screenshots. As you are creating screenshots, you should scroll through your conversation and capture each part of the conversation; ensuring that the date, time, and contact information are visible.
Once a screenshot is captured, it should be automatically saved in the Photos folder of your device.
From there, you should be able to send, save, or share the screenshot as you would with any other photograph or document. Be sure to organize your text messages in chronological order.
If you have a small number of text messages, screenshotting is a quick, easy, and free way to obtain a transcript of your text message conversation. However, if you have a lot of text messages that you would like to use as evidence, this can be time-consuming.
What does the Law say about making Screenshots of Text Messages?
In general, the law protects people when they say things with an expectation of privacy. Some states have a one party consent rule, where recording a conversation needs the consent of only one party involved (presumably, the party doing the recording).
Other states require the consent of both parties. This is why, when you call a customer service line, they always ask you if it’s okay that they record the conversation. They don’t always know where you’re calling from, and they need to cover their butt, just in case.
However, the law usually draws a line between conversations and writings. Conversations are spontaneous; people can easily get taken out of context, misspeak, etc. Writings are more deliberate.
Once you send someone a letter, the other person can publish the letter, if they want, because you have created a physical thing that you have willingly given to them.
As of right now, I believe most jurisdictions view text messages as writings, rather than as a conversation. Therefore, you should be able to share them with whoever you like, without obtaining permission of the sending party.
When Making Screenshot of Text Messages can be Illegal
1. When Images are Included
Legally, if the screenshot message contains some images that permission was not gotten, then such may be a cause for a lawsuit as pictures are automatically copyrighted. (It’s why you can’t just take pictures of people without their consent).
2. If you Had an Agreement of Privacy and Copyright
Conditionally, let’s assume you had put up an official contract with someone that your chats and messages should be private and have copyright, thus sharing a screenshot of such text messages will be a direct violation of that agreement, constituting an infringement. Otherwise, you may be found wanting in evidence and merit.
3. Where and who was the Screenshot Shared with
Evidently, if the purported screenshot was used for commercial purposes, shared with intelligence agencies, sent to someone with the intention to cause harm, or posted on an unwarranted platform or space, such can be liable to litigation depending on the magnitude of infringement.
Accordingly, there are really no legislations against taking or sharing screenshots of text messages. However, under due criteria, screenshots can be used in legal matters and you can be sued for taking and sharing screenshots, but the legal backing is really insignificant.
Generally, at present, it is widely considered a waste of time and resources trying to get redress for shared screenshots.
Do well to share this article with friends and close associates.