Messaging giant WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption to keep your chats secure.
People can still take screenshots of your replies, but is it illegal to share private messages? Here’s everything you need to know.
Is it illegal to share private WhatsApp messages?
WhatsApp has become such a feature of our personal and professional lives that it’s easy to forget how much information we share with others online.
This is fine with people you trust, and the platform’s use of end-to-end encryption means it’s a fairly secure means of communication.
But the program currently does not interfere with users take screenshots such as banking applications.
This means that people can take screenshots of conversations and share them as a still image elsewhere.
But is it a crime? The answer is quite complicated.
According to Iain Wilson, a partner at the company specialist media and litigation lawyers Brett Wilson LLP, in some circumstances this may be considered a criminal offence, for example if the messages were received without permission (eg logging into someone else’s account without their permission).
“It could be an offense under the Computer Misuse Act 1990,” says Ian. “An offense can also be committed under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 where private information is disclosed as part of a ‘proper action’.
“Conduct” refers to acts that occur more than once during the year and demonstrate a persistent intent to cause serious suffering.
The maximum punishment for the first crime is two years of imprisonment, for the second – six months.
Sharing private information from a message can also lead to abuse of private information if a court decides that the subject has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
You can even be held liable if you mistakenly pass on confidential information to the wrong person, and the claimant will not have to prove that you passed the material maliciously.
“A claimant who wins a lawsuit will be entitled to seek damages/compensation for (a) loss of control over their personal information and (b) any distress/hurt they have suffered,” says Ian.
“They will also have the right to seek an injunction (sometimes referred to in the press as a ‘gag order’) preventing further disclosure.”
A judge determines whether information can be considered “confidential” based on the specific facts.
Trivial details such as someone’s bank account being overdrawn or that they had chicken pox are unlikely to be considered sufficient to justify a claim.
Iain says that while lawsuits do happen, they are fairly rare because of how much it costs to start a civil process.
Why is it illegal to share a screenshot of a private conversation?
The illegality of sharing screenshots is determined by the above factors.
Sharing screenshots may result in a claim if you violate privacy, receive material without permission, or if the material is used for harassment.
Ian advises anyone who has received private information not to share it without the sender’s consent.
This applies to various means of communication, not just WhatsApp.