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Does the phone company store your text messages?
March 18, 2009 9:59 PM   Subscribe

Does your cell phone provider have a record of your text messages? How long do they keep it? Could it be used as evidence against you in a court case?
posted by matkline to Technology (15 answers total)
 
I've seen logs of text messages (time sent/received, and full content), provided by cell phone companies to the consumer, dating back at least a few billing periods.

If this is something you are concerned about for a current court case, I would urge you to consult your lawyer about this, and not post *any* additional information on this public site. You might also want to have the question deleted.

If it is a general, curiosity question, information about your carrier and jurisdiction would probably help to get a more precise answer.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:17 PM on March 18, 2009


Yes, I don't know, yes. Detroit's mayor was totally busted too.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 PM on March 18, 2009


Does a text message live forever?
The short of it is that Detroit's Mayor got busted because the city kept a backup of all communications, while most cell providers don't keep anything longer than a week or two.
posted by niles at 10:23 PM on March 18, 2009


Probably, yes, they have a record. If they do have it, then likely, yes, they keep it for at least some time.

And, if they have it, then, in at least some circumstances, it can be used against you in court.

So, maybe.

here's a obviously unofficial source asserting that at least on sprint, you could briefly view your text messages online, implying an independent record:
sprint user forum
posted by mercredi at 10:30 PM on March 18, 2009


IANYL - This is not legal advice. Go talk to your lawyer!

I've done some work involving this and other "ediscovery" issues. Yes your cellphone provider most likely has logs of all text messages you've sent and received. Those logs may be used against you if someone decides to subpoena them. How long those records are kept depend on the provider you have. Your provider should be able to provide you with a copy of the privacy policy and data retention policy. Somewhere in those two documents it will list how long they keep records of text messages for.

Whether the logs are discoverable also depends on the facts of the communications, what type of court case involved, and your jurisdiction.

It's a complicated issue and there's a lot of things that can change the outcome. Check out this brief article http://www.uhlaw.com/ediscoveryjuly08update/ and read the section titled "The Discoverability of Text Messages in the Wake of Quon v. Arch Wireless"

Do they still have copies of your message? Maybe. Can they be used in court? Maybe. Talk to your lawyer, if they don't know, find a lawyer who specializes in ediscovery and ask them.
posted by Arbac at 11:13 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry meant to make that a link - read the section here called The Discoverability of Text Messages in the Wake of Quon v. Arch Wireless
posted by Arbac at 11:14 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


a lawyer friend did recently confirm text messages can, and have been, subpoenaed successfully
posted by vaportrail at 11:45 PM on March 18, 2009


Well, in the Caylee Anthony case, a lot of cellphone call logs and actual text messages between Casey Anthony and her friends have been not only provided as evidence to the police, but also released/leaked to the public domain.
posted by slightlybewildered at 11:50 PM on March 18, 2009


If they do delete it after a few months, never fear. The NSA has a copy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:16 AM on March 19, 2009


In the digital age, the best rule of thumb is never, ever to do anything in an electronic medium that you would be uncomfortable seeing in court.

Text messages may be deleted but there may be a backup. Or a printout. You never know.

Emails are very likely archived somewhere. All email providers keep backups, and who knows how often those backups are recycled?

Anything on your computer may stay on your computer long after you've "deleted" it, unless you use a program to erase free space.

If you need to communicate something personal, use the phone. If you need to communicate something that could, arguably, be actionable, do it in person.
posted by musofire at 7:06 AM on March 19, 2009


I was worried about this once (not for legal reasons) and my carrier told me they don't save them. Does it depend on the carrier? Or maybe a low-level CSR just couldn't access them. Call the company and talk to your lawyer.
posted by Lullen at 7:46 AM on March 19, 2009


If they do delete it after a few months, never fear. The NSA has a copy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:16 AM on March 19 [+] [!]


However the NSA is not suppose to exist.... How can you subpoena something from someone who says they are not there?
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:21 AM on March 19, 2009


However the NSA is not suppose to exist.... How can you subpoena something from someone who says they are not there?

You could start by going to their public website and finding the contact information and taking it from there?

If this was a joke I missed, my apologies. If you were actually not aware that the National Security Agency is a big government organization with a public information staff, but instead think it's some Sekrit Mystery ninja thing, now your information is more complete.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:27 AM on March 19, 2009


One thing to consider, at least in a civil case, is that while they are available for subpeona, they tend to be VERY expensive. I worked on a case where the client wanted to subpoena every text message going back to some specific date, but abandoned this plan when she learned they were $5 per message.
posted by Sheppagus at 9:08 AM on March 19, 2009


slightlybewildered: "Well, in the Caylee Anthony case, a lot of cellphone call logs and actual text messages between Casey Anthony and her friends have been not only provided as evidence to the police, but also released/leaked to the public domain."

Regarding this, I'm not sure those texts were obtained from the carrier. At least one of those text message PDFs (I looked at 3) mentioned something called Cellebrite. I googled and discovered is a forensic device made to retrieve data directly from the cell phone.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:15 PM on March 19, 2009


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