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Texting: Who Can Actually See Your Messages?

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(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

John Shumway John Shumway
John Shumway joined NewsRadio 1020 KDKA in 2004 as co-host of The KDKA...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Tap what you think and let it fly.

“I think in the time I was in the relationship all the communication went to text,” comedian Aziz Ansari said.

Texting has become the connection of choice for a generation, direct, instant and seen by the person it’s intended for.

“Hopefully just the person I’m sending it to,” Carrie Buffington of Oakdale said.

But is that the case? Those messages don’t just evaporate into cyber space.

“When you send a message, it is going to go sit in the computers of your carrier and if the recipient is from a different carrier it will sit in their computers as well and it can sit there for a while,” Carnegie Mellon University professor of engineering and public policy John Peha said.

But “a while” could mean anything.

“It could sit there for hours or days or even months if people want it too,” Peha said.

But that could change if the national Fraternal Order of Police gets its way.

A bill before Congress made it through the Senate last year and would require cell phone companies to archive the content of your text messages for possibly up to two years.

“It’s America,” one cell phone user said. “We’re supposed to have as much privacy as possible.”

“Americans send trillions of messages every year and that’s a lot of information to store and to be able to retrieve,” peha said.

Peha says you have no expectation of privacy with texting.

“It is not law, it is not policy,” Peha said.

What protection you have lies within the policies of your cell phone carrier.

A T-mobile spokesperson told KDKA, “T-Mobile does not collect or archive text message content.”

Sprint declined to comment, but in the past sprint has been quoted as saying it keeps message content for up to a week.

AT&T, which also declined KDKA’s request for information on text archiving, has previously stated it purges message content after 48 hours.

Verizon says it will turn over the content of your messages if they are presented with a court order. But right now those messages are only saved for a week or less.

If the carriers are required to save them longer, law enforcement would get the access its investigations need, but it could be a field day for lawsuits.

“Texts in civil litigation are very valuable if you can get the courts to allow you to obtain that evidence and use it in a proceeding,” family law attorney Marty Lazzaro said. “In a civil case, maybe in a divorce case that would be relevant.”

As you would expect, the carriers will comply with any court ordered request.

Verizon will also turn over your text messages to the person named on your cell phone bill – if they provide a notarized letter, which means in Imperial resident Dawn Malanchak’s case, her father.

“I don’t think that would be right … no,” Malanchak said.

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