From our local - The Bellingham Herald:
Deleted forever? Government text messages vanish within days
Visualization exercise: Picture 88,000 mobile phones owned by more than 700 governments large and small throughout the state: state agencies, counties, cities, universities, schools, ports, tribes and junior taxing districts.
No need to imagine – the numbers are facts, logged in state records. The phones are provided by Verizon, one of the state’s four primary phone contractors.
Next step: Picture the text messages typed on those 88,000 mobile phones – hundreds of thousands of public records – and imagine them disappearing every day, acres of digital media erased and cyber-shredded, in direct violation of state law.
No need to imagine – it’s happening. Fife City Attorney Loren Combs just figured that out, after the city sued Verizon in January.
“Those public records are literally disappearing as we speak,” Combs said in a recent interview. “They’re just dumping the data. The text I sent you on a city phone last week doesn’t exist anymore, which makes no sense.”
Sounds like someone needed to read the fine print - what happened:
For Combs, the path to revelation started with a routine matter. On Nov. 6, 2014, a Fife resident filed a public records request.
The resident sought the past four years of text messages from former City Manager Dave Zabell’s mobile phone, bought and paid for by the city.
Fife forwarded the request to Verizon, the phone carrier, and asked for the records. Verizon’s response: get a subpoena.
Combs said the move surprised him. This wasn’t a law enforcement matter tied to a criminal investigation – just a simple records request.
“I was dumbfounded in this case,” he said. “First that they wouldn’t give it to us without having to file a lawsuit to get our own records.”
Combs filed the subpoena: a short lawsuit, nothing more.
Verizon replied. The answer was a shock.
“The records that you requested no longer exist because they are beyond Verizon’s period of retention,” the official reply stated. “Text message content is maintained for 3-5 days from the date of transmission/receipt and requires a court order. There are no text message content available for your requested time frame.”
The phone logs, going back one year, were still accessible; it was possible to see that messages had been sent and received, and the to-and-from phone numbers – but the content was gone: four years of communications between the city’s highest-ranking official and whoever he was talking to, deleted forever.
“They only keep the messages for a couple of days, and then it’s gone,” Combs said.
Fife dismissed the lawsuit in March. There was nothing to litigate. The city sought the records requested by the citizen and got its answer: an empty set.
I had my own dealings with Verizon in 2010 when I was trying to get a couple T-1 lines installed out here and then use a local wireless cloud to offer internet access to people. They quoted me a very attractive price, I signed and they installed the first T-1 line six months later and then the first bill came in for about five times the price I was quoted.
There is a lot more at the site - Verizon's contract puts the burden of archiving on the individual agencies. Each agency is responsible for connecting to Verizon's network and actively archiving the data. This is downright stupid especially when memory is so fscking cheap.
It will be interesting if some upstart company like Frontier leaps into the fray and offers free archiving for five years. That is the way to do business - dead dinosaur? So sad. Too bad.
It is fully time to drive a stake through Verizon's puny little heart. Oh. Wait. They do not have one...