Technology lobbyists have been pushing for reform of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act for years, primarily to address the multitude of shortcomings, loopholes that couldn’t have been predicted almost 30 years ago. Law enforcement has also jumped onto the bandwagon, having recently submitted a rider proposal that would be attached to any changes proposed to the ECPA. Their objective? To get cellular providers to retain all the text messages passing through their network, primarily for the purposes of investigating criminal activity. Currently, most providers say they do not retain the actual text messages centrally, and smartphones by default are not designed to retain text messages long term, but each provider appears to have different policies governing exactly how much data is retained, and how long. This inconsistency troubles some lawmakers, and enforcement has long held that criminals purposefully use SMS as an “untraceable, untrackable” communication method.
What this means for you:
A proposal is a long way from actual law, but many privacy advocates and watchdog groups say a rider proposal like this could hamper much needed changes to the decades-old ECPA by weighing down progressive proposals with Big Brother agendas that most technology companies find distasteful, if not diametrically opposed to in their publicy stated values – think Google’s “Do no evil” policy. The fight for privacy continues to carry into new areas everyday, but the SMS fight could be a huge battle: six billion text messages are sent everyday. Privacy issues aside, imagine having to figure out how to store this information in a way that is useful, let alone subpoenable!