Most people think online privacy is important, but police didn’t get that message.
Law enforcement groups ranging from the U.S. Justice Department to local police departments are asking Congress to pass legislation that forces wireless phone carriers to save every text message customers send, reports CNET’s Declan McCullagh.
Police say criminal investigations are “being frustrated” because companies don’t retain information, or don’t retain it long enough.
“Billions of texts are sent every day, and some surely contain key evidence about criminal activity,” Richard Littlehale from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told Congress.
If new legislation is passed to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, hard drive stock should skyrocket.
Phone carriers retain text message info for varying amounts of time. In 2010, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint did not store the contents of text messages. Verizon did for up to five days 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, CNET reports. AT&T kept that info as long as seven years.
Current law requires a search warrant be obtained before police can obtain emails, text and instant messages. Emails older than 180 days require only a subpoena.
A warrant is also required for a phone to be tapped by law enforcement agencies or for a physical document to be removed from a home. ProPublica has a nice article explaining all of this called ”No Warrant, No Problem: How The Government Can Still Get Your Digital Data.”
A warrant is not needed to get a list of phone calls made to and from a phone. The Justice Department is also proposing eliminating privacy protections covering e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging and other services, arguing that police should be able to find out who people are communicating with online without obtaining a warrant.
Google, the only company asked to testify at the Tuesday hearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, wants online documents to have the same privacy protections as those “stored in a desk drawer,” according to an article on AdAge.com.
“There is no compelling policy or legal rationale” for online documents having less privacy protection, said a Google legal representative.
Personally, I don’t much care if cops are reading my text messages or emails. They’d get bored pretty quickly. But I think private citizens should be notified if police, or anyone else, requests that information.