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New Text Message Push by Law Enforcement Agencies

11:37 AM, Dec 5, 2012   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - More and more police say they need to see what people are text messaging to help them get to the bottom of many crimes and civil cases.

That's why they want lawmakers to tell cell phone companies to keep the contents of text messages you send longer, much longer.

When text messages are sent into cyberspace they're usually stored by the phone company for a few days or a week, then deleted. Law enforcement agencies across the country want to change this and want a federal law passed that would make phone companies hold onto the data for months, or perhaps years.

"Any texts that need to come in for illegal purposes need to be saved for a certain amount of time so that whatever law enforcement can use in an investigation in the future, or even in civil cases where they can use a text message," said Joe Mascia, the chairman of the Buffalo Police Reorganization Committee.

District attorneys and police departments say they're demanding text messages for legal purposes more and more. In a letter sent last week to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, agencies say that, "electronic communications records often hold the key to solving the case. They also hold the key to ruling out suspects and exonerating the innocent."

Right now, the metadata on your phone is kept by phone companies for months or perhaps, more than a year. The metadata will show where you sent your message, but it won't include what the message said. Through subpoenas, law enforcement agencies want to be able to access what someone texted, if it's important to a case.

Barry Covert, who's been a criminal attorney for 22 years, has problems with the proposal.

"Things we've said to people in text messages, who we communicated with, what we said to them two years ago, long since forgotten, now minded into part of an investigation," he said.

In 2011, Verizon Wireless says it received 260,000 requests for customer data from law enforcement agencies. Over the past five years, U.S. Cellular has received more than 103,000 requests.

"That is a massive amount of information and we only use the information more and more every day," said Covert. 

Agencies claim that in the future they'll fight more cases that'll involved text message data and that's why they want the law changed.

This proposal from law enforcement agencies would need to be passed by Congress. It's already passed the House.

According to Covert, there's no proposal in the state that requests anything similar. Covert says that there could be plenty of civil lawsuits if this legislation is passed. 



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