By Taiwo Abiodun-Oni
WhatsApp’s “Delete for Everyone” feature has become an increasingly popular way for users to erase embarrassing or sensitive messages from a group or individual chat. The feature allows a user to delete a message within hours of sending it, effectively removing it from the recipient’s phone and the chat history. While this feature may seem like a quick and easy solution to digital slip-ups, it can lead to the assumption of guilt in certain situations.
One of the main issues with the “Delete for Everyone” function is that it leaves little evidence behind of what was said or shared. This can be problematic in situations where the deleted message is relevant to an ongoing discussion or investigation. For example, in a workplace setting, a message deleted using this feature may be perceived as an attempt to cover up misconduct or hide information that is critical to a project or decision. The deletion of a message can raise suspicions of guilt and erode trust among coworkers, even if the intention behind it was innocent.
The legal term for deleting messages is ‘spoliation of evidence’ gotten from the common law principle of ‘spoliated inference’
Spoliation of evidence refers to the intentional or accidental destruction, alteration, or hiding of evidence that is relevant to a legal proceeding. In Nigeria, spoliation of evidence is governed by the Evidence Act, which sets out the rules and procedures for the admissibility of evidence in court. The Act recognizes that the preservation of evidence is essential to the administration of justice and provides for the imposition of sanctions against anyone who intentionally or recklessly causes the destruction of evidence.
The Importance of Evidence in Nigerian Law
Evidence plays a crucial role in the administration of justice. It is used to determine the facts of a case and to establish whether a person is guilty or innocent. In order to ensure that evidence is reliable and trustworthy, the Evidence Act imposes strict rules and procedures for its admissibility in court. These rules are designed to ensure that evidence is properly collected, stored, and presented, and to prevent the spoliation of evidence.
The Effect of the Delete for Everyone Function on Evidence
The “Delete for Everyone” function of WhatsApp raises serious concerns about the preservation of evidence in legal proceedings. This function allows users to erase messages they have sent, even if they have already been delivered to the recipient. This means that messages that may be relevant to a legal proceeding can be easily erased, making it difficult or impossible for the court to consider the evidence.
In Nigeria, the spoliation of evidence can have serious consequences. If a party to a legal proceeding is found to have intentionally or recklessly caused the destruction of evidence, the court may infer that the evidence was unfavorable to that party. This inference can be used to support the other party’s case and can result in serious sanctions, including the exclusion of evidence, the striking out of pleadings, and even the dismissal of the case.
The Need for a New Approach to Evidence Preservation in the Digital Age
The rapid advancement of technology and the increasing use of instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp have created new challenges for the preservation of evidence in legal proceedings. In order to ensure that evidence is reliable and trustworthy, it is necessary to adopt a new approach to evidence preservation in the digital age.
One possible solution is for WhatsApp to implement a new feature that prevents the deletion of messages that are relevant to a legal proceeding. This could be achieved by allowing a court order to freeze or preserve certain messages, ensuring that they remain available for use as evidence. This would help to ensure that evidence is preserved in a way that is consistent with the rules and procedures set out in the Evidence Act.
Another solution is for WhatsApp to provide a secure and tamper-proof means of preserving messages. This could be achieved by implementing encryption technology that prevents messages from being deleted or altered. This would help to ensure that evidence is preserved in a way that is consistent with the principles of fairness and impartiality.
The “Delete for Everyone” function of WhatsApp has raised serious concerns about the preservation of evidence in legal proceedings. In Nigeria, the spoliation of evidence can have serious consequences and it is necessary to adopt a new approach to evidence preservation in the digital age. This could be achieved by implementing a system for preserving digital evidence in legal proceedings, such as setting up specific guidelines and protocols for collecting and storing digital evidence, providing training for legal professionals on the proper handling of digital evidence, and establishing partnerships with tech companies to ensure that digital evidence can be accessed and used in court. Additionally, efforts could be made to educate the public on the importance of preserving digital evidence in legal proceedings and the potential consequences of destroying or altering such evidence. Overall, a multi-disciplinary approach, involving both the legal and tech communities, is needed to effectively address the challenges posed by the preservation of digital evidence in the digital age.