There are a number of law enforcement agencies that have gone to congress asking them to force AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and other wireless providers to record and store Americans’ private text messages for at least two years in case they need the information for future investigations. Those same law enforcement agencies claim that the absence of such a federal requirement can “hinder law enforcement investigations.”
CNET is reporting that a number of law enforcement agencies want the U.S. Senate to consider the SMS retention requirement when Congress discusses updating a 1986 privacy law for today’s technology. The push by law enforcement to gain access to even more of Americans’ private information will undoubtedly infuriate privacy advocates.
According to CNET:
As the popularity of text messages has exploded in recent years, so has their use in criminal investigations and civil lawsuits. They have been introduced as evidence in armed robbery, cocaine distribution, and wire fraud prosecutions. In one 2009 case in Michigan, wireless provider SkyTel turned over the contents of 626,638 SMS messages, a figure described by a federal judge as “staggering.”
Chuck DeWitt, a spokesman for the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, which represents the 63 largest U.S. police forces including New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago, said “all such records should be retained for two years.” Some providers, like Verizon, retain the contents of SMS messages for a brief period of time, while others like T-Mobile do not store them at all.
Along with the police association, other law enforcement groups making the request to the Senate include the National District Attorneys’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, DeWitt said.
“This issue is not addressed in the current proposal before the committee and yet it will become even more important in the future,” the groups warn.
The mentioned committee is the Senate Judiciary Committee, which blocked a number of amendments to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act last week that actually protected Americans’ privacy.
The law enforcement proposal does not necessarily indicate whether the contents of the text messages would be stored or just the metadata like the sender and receiver phone numbers. Forrester Research reports that more than 2 trillion SMS messages were sent in the U.S. last year.