It's sufficiently worrying that law enforcement agencies want Congress to require wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon to retain records of all text messages sent over their networks for two full years. As CNET's Declan McCullough reports, police and other law enforcement authorities say they want text-message logs available just in case they're needed in a criminal investigation.
The blanket nature of the policy, though, would sweep everyone in before any evidence of any crime existed. Almost by definition, most of the message logs would involve law-abiding citizens sending private messages. An information trove that big would be awfully tempting for legal authorities. How long before law enforcement started making requests to view and search those logs in hopes of finding criminal activity? With private communications like these, it's a short jump from "just in case they're needed" to "any time they're wanted."
The law enforcement community's latest request is even more worrying when considered in the context of the government's increasingly aggressive electronic surveillance efforts.
Law enforcement officials want the text-message provision to be part of an update to outdated online privacy legislation, a previous draft of which was designed to allow nearly two dozen federal agencies, as well as state and local law officials, to access an individual's email without a warrant. That version has been shelved, at least for now, and the latest draft includes a warrant requirement. But it's telling that that's what the law enforcement community wanted.
Just as telling is what cops all over the country have already gotten: data on more than 1.5 million wireless users in 2011 alone. And as Reason's Ronald Bailey explains in the latest print edition, there's no way to know if you're one of the million-plus users who have been targeted.
I'll be talking about the text-message-retention proposal and the growing electronic surveillance state on with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business in the 8 p.m. (EST) hour tonight. Tune in!