The House Judiciary Subcommittee held a meeting a week ago Tuesday on potential new provisions of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, and the outcome was very disquieting. Richard Littlehale, of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, made this recommendation, and he was serious:
Billions of texts are sent every day, and some surely contain key evidence about criminal activity. Text messaging often plays a big role in investigations related to domestic violence, stalking, menacing, drug trafficking, and weapons trafficking.
The subcommittee wound up suggesting longer retention times of interpersonal electronic messages as well as the creation of expedited federal access to these databases.
That’s the ticket: we need to start prying into everyone’s personal business because someone, somewhere, might be thinking about committing a crime. Our 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendments need to by federally regulated. Sure. That’s the story, and they’re sticking to it.
Already, many of the message transporters and facility providers retain copies of our electronic correspondence for inordinately long times: Verizon, for instance as recently as 2010, kept customer text messages on file for three to five days, while Virgin Mobile stored them for 90 days.
Other providers haven’t been so cavalier with our private correspondence. AT&T (then Cingular Wireless in the text-messaging arena), Sprint, and Nextel didn’t hang onto any of it for any length of time.
Of course, that means these…persons…in the House need to standardize message handling. All for the convenience of government. Littlehale talked about this, too.
We’re at the mercy of the service providers to determine how long it’s going take them to comply with that request [for the customer’s messages]. I would suggest whatever the level of standard of proof, the thing that really matters most to us at state and local law enforcement is prompt response.
Well, I would suggest that this is a textbook example of why none of the providers should retain this information at all, for any length of time.
And this from Republicans and Conservatives.