Law enforcement groups from around the country have been lobbying Congress to issue regulations that mandate wireless providers keep text messages of their customers’ for 2 years. These groups believe that the absence of such a law hinders their investigations. They want to have access to everyone’s text history “just in case” they’re involved in a criminal investigation at some point in the future. CNet reported:
“As the popularity of text messages has exploded in recent years, so has their use in criminal investigations and civil lawsuits. They have been introduced as evidence in armed robbery, cocaine distribution, and wire fraud prosecutions. In one 2009 case in Michigan, wireless provider SkyTel turned over the contents of 626,638 SMS messages, a figure described by a federal judge as ‘staggering.’”
While most carriers store metadata associated with text messages such as sender and receiver numbers for months or years, they don’t keep the actual text messages any longer than a few days or weeks, and some don’t store that information at all. Considering how popular text messaging is these days, requiring that companies store that much data for 2 years may be a costly endeavor. In the U.S. just last year alone, about 2 trillion texts were sent. That’s about 6 billion texts a day.
It’s not clear however as to whether law enforcement want logs of actual text messages or just the metadata associated with the texts. But, either way, that’s a lot of data.
I’m sure these law enforcement lobbying groups have good intentions. They want to be able to prosecute criminals faster, and having everyone’s personal information at their disposal will make convictions easier. But it’s not all that different from the Feds mandating that everybody have health insurance. It might be well-intentioned for some liberal do-gooders, but it’s unconstitutional. The government simply does not have the authority to force Americans to buy a product. It’s unconstitutional for the government to force a wireless provider to keep track of all their customers’ text messages.
Having such a law would surely be a slippery slope toward laws that allow police to have access to anyone’s personal information whenever they want it. And they won’t even have to have a warrant.
And that’s the issue. Police can do all sorts of things in this country without a warrant. I don’t think I would have a problem with police searching through someone’s texts as long as they had a warrant to do so. In order for them to secure a warrant, they would have to show a judge that they had probable cause that that particular person was involved in a crime, and that a search through their texts would furnish evidence proving criminal activity. If the judge agreed, a warrant would be issued, and the police could conduct their search.
Convicting someone of a crime is supposed to be difficult to do. There has to be enough evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone committed a crime. Absent such evidence, the case should be thrown out. Does this mean that truly guilty people may go free sometimes? Yes. But it also means that innocent people would never be convicted. Thomas Jefferson remarked, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”