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Recovering & Viewing Text Messages

April 24, 2013 Private Investigations

While some may hold text messages at a lower value, this form of communication can provide convenience and a more permanent form of messaging. In addition to allowing cell phone holders to send a quick message rather than having to make a longer call, text messages can also be used in the courtroom. More than just a virtual message, a text can offer evidence and insight into a case. While not all phone calls are recorded or they can be deleted, a text is more permanent and can offer inerasable facts.

Text messages cannot be viewed by just anyone, but with a warrant they can be obtained. Through the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) cell phone providers are forbidden from printing out messages, even when it is for the individual’s personal account. Through online access, the amount of text messages and the numbers they were sent and received from can be viewed. What will not be found is the actual content of the message.

For those that are looking to gain the printout of their text messages for a legal matter, it will be necessary to call local law enforcement to find out how this can be done. Based on the 2006 Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act, local law enforcement may be unable to help and the FBI may need to be sought instead. Contacting the FBI is a legal way to obtain records, but it should be only in more serious circumstances. They have the ability and the authority to use digital forensics to acquire a message from any type of electronically handheld device, including messages that have been deleted.

Under the U.S. Government Legal Code: Title 18 USC § 2703 – Disclosure of Customer Communications or Records (a) Contents of Wire or Electronic Communications in Electronic Storage– Government entities have the ability to require that that the information from electronic or wire communication that is in an electronic communications system or storage for a period of a 180 days or less be disclosed by the provider. This must be done through a court with jurisdiction issuing a warrant that is in accordance with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. If it is done through the State court, the warrant will need to adhere to those specific warrant procedures.

For those looking to retain copies of messages, the following steps should be followed:

  1. USB SIM card reader software should be installed onto a computer.
  2. Through the USB port, the SIM card readers will need to be connected to the computer. The SIM card from the phone with the messages will need to be inserted into the reader which will transfer the copies of the messages from the phone to the computer.
  3. Text messages should then be printed out after being put on the computer.
  4. Not every type of cell phone will come with a SIM card or messages that have been retained by the card reader. In these cases, a transcript should be sought from the cell phone provider and a court order will be needed to do so, pursuant the Shared Communications Act. This is true even for a person that is trying to get the messages from their own phone since the messages were between the phone of another individual that still has certain protected rights. Different cell phone companies have their own way of holding on to text messages so it is important to be aware of this. Some may only hold on to them for a few weeks, while others may keep them on a file for a few years.

It is best to turn to a professional and make sure that you are following the correct procedure. Contact us at Sunset Blvd. Investigations, Inc. to learn the ways that we can aid you with your investigation needs.

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