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The police wants your text messages to be stored for investigations

Sites include . Published on March 23rd, 2013. Written by Loic Cobbina.

While Google is requesting that Congress should strengthen the privacy of emails exchanged among Americans, the police argues that there should be a law making cell phone providers store users’ SMS just in case the authorities would want to have access to them during an investigation.

This proposal supported by a coalition of law-enforcement associations wants cell phone services like T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon store their customers text messages for a period of 2 years. Richard Littlehale, the agent supervising the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was found echoing the idea this morning as he was testifying in front of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Homeland Security, Terrorism and Investigations. Littlehale made mention of the fact that cell phone companies don’t store SMS and that practice may not play in favor of law enforcement.

He said that considering the billions of text messages sent every day, it is obvious that some of them contain proof of criminal activity. This implies that key evidence get lost in the process. To him, this justifies why policemen should be given the power to request for text messages from cell phone companies to solve cases of investigations. Of course this should be done following a legal process within a certain time frame.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was live tweeting the event online the morning of the hearing and based on the information they released, Littlehale wishes that carriers stores the text messages for one year.

For now, when it comes to the retention of data from their users, cell phone companies have their own policies and they vary from carrier to carrier. There is no official law demanding wireless companies store user info for a certain amount of time. The data retention policy of each company is not published. That said after years of research, by relying on scattered information, some activists and reporters have been able to have an idea of what is going on with respect to that.

In the year 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union was able to get an internal Justice Department memo, through a Freedom of Information Act request. The memo showed that as of 2010 Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile did not record their users text messages but Verizon and Virgin Mobile did. Verizon recorded text messages and kept them for 3 to 5 day while Virgin Mobile would keep them for 90 days.

The hearing was ended with Littlehale stressing on how critical it is to give law enforcement the right to have access to information that will enable policemen to easily track criminals. He still acknowledged that there should be a way to protect innocent user’s privacy as well.

He mentioned that it is people’s right to want to protect their privacy but the fact remains that the information retrieved from text messages could hold the key to apprehending a dangerous fugitive, finding an abducted child or preventing another terrorist attack.

What do you think of the idea of having your text message recorded by your wireless provider for a long period of time? Should that be put into law? Share your thoughts below.

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