AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and other wireless providers would be required to capture and store Americans’ confidential text messages, according to a recent proposal presented to a congressional panel.
The law enforcement proposal would require wireless providers to record and store customers’ SMS messages — a controversial idea akin to requiring them to surreptitiously record audio of their customers’ phone calls — in case police decide to obtain them at some point in the future.
“Billions of texts are sent every day, and some surely contain key evidence about criminal activity,” Richard Littlehale from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will tell Congress, according to a copy (PDF) of his prepared remarks. “In some cases, this means that critical evidence is lost. Text messaging often plays a big role in investigations related to domestic violence, stalking, menacing, drug trafficking, and weapons trafficking.”
Littlehale’s recommendations echo a recommendation that a constellation of law enforcement groups, including the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, the National District Attorneys’ Association, and the National Sheriffs’ Association, made to Congress in December, which was first reported by CNET.
They had asked that an SMS retention requirement be glued onto any new law designed to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act for the cloud computing era — a move that would complicate debate over such a measure and erode support for it among civil libertarians and the technology firms lobbying for a rewrite.
The recent House hearing before a Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) is designed to evaluate how ECPA should be upgraded. CNET previously reported that the Justice Department is proposing that any ECPA changes expand government surveillance powers over e-mail messages, Twitter direct messages, and Facebook direct messages in some ways, while limiting it in others. A Google representative is also testifying.
While the SMS retention proposal could open a new front in Capitol Hill politicking over electronic surveillance, the concept of mandatory data retention is hardly new. The Justice Department under President Obama has publicly called for new laws requiring Internet service providers to record data about their customers, and a House panel approved such a requirement in 2011.
Continue reading at CNET //