It was bound to happen at some point in time, and hopefully Congress will squash it quickly, but according to CNet, state and local law enforcement groups have submitted a request to the U.S. Senate, asking that U.S. wireless carriers be required to retain SMS records for two years and warn that the lack of a current federal requirement “can hinder law enforcement investigations.”
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.
It is unclear if they’re wanting the actual contents of the text messages, or just the metadata showing the to and from phone numbers and times. If it is just the latter, then it is not as big of a deal since phone records are kept and can be summoned in the same way.
Oddly enough, all of this is coming on the 20 year anniversary of SMS, and while the future of SMS is unknown. Apple products can use iMessage, Windows Phone can use Live Messenger and Facebook Chat built-in, and Android has Google Talk. There’s tons of third-party apps out there too like Kik and WhatsApp.
What is your take on this policy? I have nothing to hide, but its the principle of the matter and personal privacy. I don’t care if they keep a record of who I text like they do phone calls, but the contents of the messages should be kept private.