That thing you texted to that person the other night which you deleted out of overwhelming shame the next day? Messages like that could be pored over in the future by cops if various law enforcement officials have their way. They’re reportedly asking Congress to make wireless carriers record and store customers’ private text messages for at least two years, in case police need that info for a future investigation.
CNET says it’s learned of a bunch of law enforcement groups who have given the U.S. Senate a proposal that would require wireless companies to hang on to Americans’ text info, because the fact that there isn’t such a law now “can hinder law enforcement investigations.”
The proposal was submitted while Congress is mulling over updates to a 1986 privacy law in light of the era of cloud computing. Text messages already play an important part in many cases, including one 2009 Michigan case where SkyTel handed over 626,638 messages.
A spokesman for the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, a group that includes 63 of the largest U.S. police forces, says those records should be saved for two years, regardless of your wireless provider. Right now it varies — Verizon saves messages for a short period while T-Mobile doesn’t hang on to them at all.
An internal Justice Department document (PDF) that the ACLU obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows that, as of 2010, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint did not store the contents of text messages. Verizon did for up to five days, a change from its earlier no-logs-at-all position, and Virgin Mobile kept them for 90 days. The carriers generally kept metadata such as the phone numbers associated with the text for 90 days to 18 months; AT&T was an outlier, keeping it for as long as seven years, according to the chart.
(That document might be a bit of out date, as CNET consulted a recent court case said that Sprint had turned over “preserved text messages.”)
It isn’t clear whether the new proposal would aim to save the actual content of the messages, or just info like who they were sent to, but we’re willing to bet most consumers wouldn’t want text messages they send today to be used against them tomorrow, or a year from now.