Wireless providers like AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, could be forced to record and store customer's private text messages for at least two years, in the event authorities need to read them in the course of a criminal investigation.
Several news and electronic privacy groups reported Tuesday that law enforcement groups have asked the U.S. Senate to require that wireless companies retain that information, warning that the lack of a current federal requirement "can hinder law enforcement investigations."
They want an SMS retention requirement to be "considered" during congressional discussions over updating a 1986 privacy law for the cloud computing era -- a move that could complicate debate over the measure and erode support for it among civil libertarians.
As the popularity of text messages has exploded in recent years, so has their use in criminal investigations and civil lawsuits. They have been introduced as evidence in armed robbery, cocaine distribution, and wire fraud prosecutions. In one 2009 case in Michigan, wireless provider SkyTel turned over the contents of 626,638 SMS messages, a figure described by a federal judge as "staggering."
Companies do not publicize their data retention policies, but it is believed some store them for as long as 90 days, while others delete them in 3-5 days.