Text Message Retention Policies
The FBI wants cell phone carriers to store SMS messages for a long time, enabling them to conduct surveillance backwards in time. Nothing new there—data retention laws are being debated in many countries around the world—but this was something I did not know:
Wireless providers’ current SMS retention policies vary. An internal Justice Department document (PDF) that the ACLU obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows that, as of 2010, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint did not store the contents of text messages. Verizon did for up to five days, a change from its earlier no-logs-at-all position, and Virgin Mobile kept them for 90 days. The carriers generally kept metadata such as the phone numbers associated with the text for 90 days to 18 months; AT&T was an outlier, keeping it for as long as seven years.
An e-mail message from a detective in the Baltimore County Police Department, leaked by Antisec and reproduced in a 2011 Wired article, says that Verizon keeps “text message content on their servers for 3-5 days.” And: “Sprint stores their text message content going back 12 days and Nextel content for 7 days. AT&T/Cingular do not preserve content at all. Us Cellular: 3-5 days Boost Mobile LLC: 7 days”
That second set of data is from 2009.
Leaks seems to be the primary way we learn how our privacy is being violated these days—we need more of them.
EDITED TO ADD (4/12): Discussion of Canadian policy.