Cops Want Wireless Carriers to Store Text Message Records For Two Years — Just In Case


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Law enforcement officials want the text-message provision to be part of an update to outdated online privacy legislation, a previous draft of which was designed to allow nearly two dozen federal agencies, as well as state and local law officials, to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! 

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  1. Every letter sent via post should be copied and stored, you know, “just in case”.

    1. If they actually proposed this it might actually make the news and the populace would not be happy. And it’s the same fucking thing.

  2. Well if you’re not admitting to any crimes in your text messages, then you don’t have anything to worry about.

    The 4th Amendment doesn’t protect people engaging in criminal activities!

    1. Five felonies a day, JJ. And for you, that’s not even counting the sodomy and bestiality.

      “Sex with animals?!? There’s no TIME, man!”

      1. Five felonies a day, JJ.

        Which is why winning elections is important.

        Repeat: if those who value liberty don’t vote, those who are voted for won’t value liberty.

    2. It’s easy, JJ: coke transactions, on the phone you call them blowjobs. So basically you’ll just be doing twice as much texting as usual about blowjobs, and probably get confused about which ones are which, but other than that, no biggie. I’m sure you’ll get used to it.

    3. Nicely done, JJ. Pay attention, people. ^^This^^ is how it’s done.

    4. The 4th Amendment doesn’t protect people engaging in criminal activities!

      I know this is supposed to be parody, but the 4th really wasn’t intended to protect those guilty of criminal activity. It was intended to prevent harassment of the innocent.

      Obviously, it’s impossible to know in advance whether a target is innocent or guilty, so doing the latter will always require the side effect of protecting some guilty persons. But the more we can reduce that side effect, the better off we are.

      1. Except those innocent become “guilty” as more laws get passed. Therefore the 4th correctly protects the would-be guilty as well.

  3. Like Hoover that wanna have dirt on everyone.

  4. Data retention and discovery laws are gay. Its like being forced to keep some useless thing that you want to throw away. Its not my responsibility to enable other people to find out information that belongs to me.


  5. As long as companies are willing to give away your information to ingratiate themselves with the powers that be, we will all be subject to this kind of crap.

    Read your mobile phone provider’s policy before you renew your contract and vote with your feet. If enough people are willing to go with a provider that tells the state to fuck off then the rest will fall in line. If people don’t give a fuck then we’re all doomed to live in a security state. (IOW, we are all doomed to live in a security state.)

    1. So far, Toyota has not released any form of car computer data that would be useful to incriminate a driver. They claim their computers don’t record data with that kind of detail, and they keep their software on lock.

  6. Suderman, that was brilliant alt text.

  7. lol, never been a better time to be anonymous, use encryption!

    1. I’ve just about had enough of your actually commenting on the articles bleep.

  8. Of course, people who really are plotting terrorist acts or other heinous crimes will just stop using text messages for this purpose, so the only use of this information will be to harass the innocent.

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