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The Real Deal: Cops Want Two-Year Log of Text Messages

Updated: Thursday, April 10 2014, 01:51 PM EDT

ALBANY - Most of us send dozens of text messages every day.  When we're done with a conversation, we hit delete and until now, the cell phone company did too but a number of law enforcement groups have asked Congress to make carriers store all text message data, for every customer, for at least two years in case it's needed for future criminal investigations.  

2 trillion text messages were sent in the United States last year.  Everywhere you look, people are having silent conversations, chats that many large law enforcement groups now want cell phone companies to hold on to.  "I would feel that my conversations with another person should stay between us and having somebody else keep them is kinda an invasion of privacy," says Christine Lombard of Albany.  Yasmin Johnston agrees telling CBS6, "I think it's kinda invading someones privacy but if it's to help out with crimes then you gotta do what you gotta do especially if the messages get deleted and there's no way to track them and you have like threats coming in, the cops it's out of their hands once you delete them."

Most major carriers keep full text messages for a few days and what's called metadata, the phone number associated with both the sender and the receiver, for a few months.  Police agencies have found information that can be helpful in criminal cases, has been purged before they can get to it and that's why they're making this request. 

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple is a member of two of the national organizations pushing for the change but personally he's not convinced it is really necessary, "we can use the information when we're looking for a conversation that may have taken place between these two people, could be a conspiracy to commit murder, could be a drug sale, something to that effect... it would be a helpful tool but we are sensitive to people's privacy as well.  I'm concerned about the other end, not the law enforcement end but the other end of where this is being held, is it protected? is it secured?  You don't want them just dumping out conversations," he tells CBS6. 

Any law enforcement agency looking to access the information would still be required to get a court order, meaning you would have to be a suspect in a crime to have your text messages looked at.  Many cell phone users CBS6 spoke to on Wednesday say they believe it is a slippery slope. 

Cell phone carriers aren't commenting on the request to Congress at the moment but the overhead associated with granting it would likely be tremendous and so far, it's not finding all that much support.  "All of those are private communications that are your own no matter who you've spoken to and the person who is listening has a privacy right as well," says Melanie Trimble of the New York Civil Liberties Union. 

This request to Congress would likely be discussed during hearings on updating the 1986 privacy law which are scheduled to begin next year.  

The Real Deal: Cops Want Two-Year Log of Text Messages

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