December 03, 2012

Do the Police Want to Read Your Text Messages?


The text message turns 20 today, and what is a better way to celebrate your 20th birthday than to run afoul of the police? (well, presumably NOT running afoul of police would be better. Also? CAKE). But if police officers have their way, then Congress will decree that providers must hold onto our private text messages for two years.

That’s right. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and others would be forced to hold onto every shopping list you have sent your spouse, every silly emoticon you have created for your friends, and every late-night declaration of love you have made to your old flame that you found on Facebook. Yeah, that sounds like an idea that hovers between annoying and embarrassing. Or, if I happen to be an international drug smuggler or something (I am not), it can be really, really bad news.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The US Senate is planning to update a 1986 privacy law, bringing it in line with modern technology. And an organization known as the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, which represents law enforcement offices from the 63 largest cities in the country, including New York, Chicago, LA and Miami, is lobbying Congress to require wireless providers to hold onto text messages for two years. Verizon, for example, holds onto them for a time, but T-Mobile does not store them at all.

In recent years, text messages have been used in criminal and civil cases ranging from robbery to drug smuggling to wire fraud. Other organizations are joining the MCPCA’s plea, including the National District Attorneys’ Association, the National Sheriff’s Association and the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies. For its part, the American Civil Liberties Union feels that the storage of text messages requires a lengthy discussion.

While these records might certainly help law enforcement agencies track down and prosecute bad guys, the proposed policy certain raises privacy issues. It remains to be seen whether Congress takes the recommendation to heart.

Until then, I am going to conduct all of my personal affairs via smoke signals. And, cancel any plans I have to break the law, naturally…




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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