What the Tech: New iPhone feature may cause legal issues

Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 6:03 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A new feature iPhone users have been asking for is coming in iOS 16 this fall, but it could cause problems for people going through child custody issues.

iPhone users will have the ability to unsend or undo a text message after it’s been sent. We’ve probably all sent a text message we wish we hadn’t sent or accidentally sent a text message to the wrong person.

In iOS 16, you’ll not only be able to unsend a text, but you can go back and edit what you’ve already sent.

That’s good for most of us, but family court attorney Allison McFadden worries it allows someone to destroy key pieces of evidence in the types of cases she handles.

“Custody, obviously divorce proceedings, protective orders, alimony, child support,” she said.

Evidence in those cases is often circumstantial, a matter of he-said, she-said. Text messages are a record of what people say to one another along with the date and time the message was sent and delivered. With few exceptions, text messages are admissible in court.

“In a sense, it’s the one piece of evidence that the court sometimes has to point to what may have happened or what somebody said, McFadden explained. “So if they’re coming into court saying, ‘I never said I was going to come after you if you didn’t let me have the kids this week, well here we have a text message saying you said exactly that.

An example, McFadden gives is an ex-husband sending a threatening text to the mother of their children.

The mom receives the text and reads it, but the ex-husband then deletes the text. She’ll have a difficult time proving to a judge that she needs a protective order.

“And the damage has been done,” McFadden said. “The harm’s already been done. A Lot of times people making these threats, they’re doing it because they know it’s going to have an impact on the person who’s seeing it.”

The person receiving the text can see if a text has been un-sent, or edited. But that’s it. The original text is unavailable for viewing. McFadden believes that’ll get entire text message chains dismissed as evidence, making it even more difficult to prove to a judge that someone needs a protective order.

“This allows parents to make statements say whatever they want in violation of an order, and then just delete it.”

McFadden said she hopes Apple will give users the ability to opt-out of receiving texts that can be un-sent or edited.

In the meantime, if you receive a text that you might need, take a screenshot if you think they might delete it later.

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