Do you want law enforcement agencies to have access to your text messages?

Everyone agrees that the Electronics Communications Privacy Act of 1986 needs to be updated, but law enforcement officials and the rest of us are pretty far apart regarding how that should happen. While many people want private communications to remain private, law enforcement agencies are petitioning Congress to require wireless providers including AT&T, Verizon and Sprint to record and store cell phone texts for up to two years, “just in case” they might be needed for investigations.

Caught in between – and ultimately responsible for deciding what becomes the law of the land – is Congress. The Major Cities Chiefs Police Association is claiming that law enforcement investigations will be hindered without access to text messages, which in the past have been introduced as evidence in armed robbery, cocaine distribution and wire fraud prosecutions. Privacy expert Hanni Fakhoury, on the other hand, says that data retention policies serve only one purpose: “to require companies to keep databases on their customers so law enforcement can fish for evidence.”

I found this Freedom Outpost article, Cops Want Congress to Store Your Text Messages, and I thought it was pretty interesting. Currently, the privacy bill awaiting a vote in early 2013 focuses on emails, but it’s likely that wording about cell phone texts will be added at some point.

At this point, an easy-to-obtain court order is all that’s needed to access private emails, but the new bill is expected to make things at least somewhat tougher for law enforcement. Will the same type of challenge exist when it comes to extracting text messages from individuals or phone companies? People who want easy access to private communications argue that the chances of thwarting a terrorist attack increase with this kind of surveillance. Privacy advocates counter that the right to pry will be abused and will wind up curtailing the freedoms of law-abiding citizens.

How do you feel about this subject? Is the benefit to public safety worth making it easy police, the FBI, CIA, etc., to obtain citizens’ emails and text messages? Frankly, I tend to feel that they should have to conclusively prove that the information they wish to obtain is crucial to their investigations. Please weigh in on this topic because I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

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