Cops Want Wireless Providers to Record and Store Your Text Messages

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai,  |  published on March 21, 2013

text messages

The same day that Google is asking Congress to strengthen privacy protections for Americans’ emails, the cops are arguing that U.S. law should require cellphone providers to store text messages logs in the event authorities need to read them in the course of a criminal investigation.

According to the proposal, backed by a coalition of law-enforcement associations, wireless companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile would have to record and store customer’s text messages for at least two years, as first reported by CNET last year.

Richard Littlehale, a supervisor with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, testified this morning in front of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, echoing the law-enforcement coalition’s proposal. In his prepared remarks (PDF), Littlehale lamented that the cellphone companies don’t retain text messages, a practice that “can hinder law enforcement investigations.”

“Billions of texts are sent every day, and some surely contain key evidence about criminal activity,” he said. “In some cases, this means that critical evidence is lost.” And that’s why he thinks cops should have a chance to go to cellphone providers and get their hands on old text messages if they need to, “with appropriate legal process, for at least some period of time.”

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was live-tweeting the hearing this morning, Littlehale said he would like carriers to keep the information for one year.

Nowadays, data retention policies vary from carrier to carrier and there’s no uniform law mandating the companies to store information for a determined amount of time. Companies don’t publicize their data retention policies, but throughout the years, activists’ and reporters have been able to piece together some scattered information.

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