On the trail of disappearing evidence

Published August 26, 2015

Third year law student Ryan Ganzenmuller’s article, “Snap and Destroy: Preservation Issues for Ephemeral Communications,” has been recognized with a Burton Award.

“Ryan’s article not only addresses a very exciting and innovative issue with regard to online communications, especially ones that are transient by design, but his analysis is great.”
Rick Su, Professor of Law
SUNY Buffalo Law School

Snapchat. Vaporstream. Wickr. Gryphn. TigerText. Secret Square.

Self-destructing messaging apps have become the go-to choice for everyone from teenagers to business executives. Worry about the digital trail left by email and Facebook records has fueled the growth of short-lived communications systems that automatically delete messages and photos, often just a few seconds after they’re received.

Ryan Ganzenmuller, now a third-year SUNY Buffalo Law student and editor in chief of the Buffalo Law Review, noticed that proliferation – and noticed too that the laws of evidence haven’t kept pace. He made that gap the subject of an article, “Snap and Destroy: Preservation Issues for Ephemeral Communications,” that was published in the Law Review’s December issue.

Now that article has been recognized with a Burton Award, conferred by the Burton Foundation to celebrate the best writing by the nation’s law students. This is the second year in a row that a SUNY Buffalo Law student has won the award, one of 15 nationwide; Jacob S. Sonner ’14 won last year.

Ganzenmuller says the idea came to him during an evidence course last year, when discussion turned to the rules governing the preservation of evidence. “I started to poke around a little bit, and there turned out to be a whole bunch of these programs,” he says. “I saw a potential problem in the evidentiary sense, and found that not much had been written about that.”

He says he and his friends use Snapchat with some regularity. “It becomes a means of keeping up with somebody’s life and what they’re doing,” Ganzenmuller says. “Life is a series of these fleeting moments; some you remember and some you forget. With Facebook they’re there forever, but Snapchat mimics what real life is like – quick memories, quick photos.”

Ganzenmuller, an East Amherst native, studied political science and philosophy in a pre-law program at Binghamton University. He also wrote sports for the twice-weekly student newspaper there, the Pipe Dream.

Professor Rick Su, faculty adviser to the Buffalo Law Review, says he saw Ganzenmuller’s piece last year and heard some buzz about it among the student editors of the journal. “There was a lot of talk about it,” says Su, who nominated the article for the Burton Award.

“A big component of the award is the quality of the analysis and timeliness of the issue. Ryan’s article not only addresses a very exciting and innovative issue with regard to online communications, especially ones that are transient by design, but his analysis is great.”

Ganzenmuller is planning a trip to Washington, D.C., in June to accept his award, at an event that includes Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the keynote speaker.