December 5, 2007 6:30 AM PST

Police Blotter: Verizon forced to turn over text messages

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Police Blotter is a weekly News.com report on the intersection of technology and the law.

What: U.S. Department of Justice seeks archived SMS text messages from Verizon Wireless without obtaining a warrant first.

When: District judge rules on October 30; magistrate judge completes review of archived text messages on Friday.

Outcome: Prosecutors receive the complete contents of defendant's text messages.

What happened, according to court documents:
It may not be that well known outside of police and telecommunications circles, but odds are excellent that your mobile phone provider saves copies of your SMS text messages. In a case that Police Blotter wrote about last year, federal police obtained logs of archived text messages from two unnamed wireless providers.

In addition, a judge in the Kobe Bryant sex case ordered the phone provider to turn over archived messages. Text messages were also part of the trial involving the attempted murder of rapper 50 Cent.

(By the way, here is one way to send almost-anonymous text messages.)

The most recent case dealing with SMS text messages does not involve a celebrity, though. It involves Susan Jackson, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud involving unauthorized transfers from her employer's bank account to her own NASA Federal Credit Union account.

To buttress her request for a minimum sentence, Jackson submitted letters that she said were from friends, employers, and relatives, but the U.S. Secret Service asserts the documents were altered or doctored. If that is true, it could amount to an additional charge of obstruction of justice.

One person allegedly said that Jackson urged him, "using text messaging and e-mail," to go along with the alterations.

The U.S. Department of Justice asked for a subpoena ordering Verizon Wireless to turn over the contents of text messages for phone number (301) 325-XXXX. The request was made under 18 USC 2703(b)(1)(b)(i) and (ii), which do not require probable cause and a search warrant. Instead, all prosecutors must do is claim--and this is much easier--that the records are "relevant and material" to an investigation. (The Justice Department says this is fine because the text messages were "opened communications," meaning that they were already read by the recipient and should therefore be easier to obtain.)

Jackson's lawyer opposed the request, saying that a proper search warrant was required. On October 30, U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts sided with the prosecution and said that only a subpoena was needed.

Verizon complied. It turned over three sets of documents: information about the account holder linked to that phone number, a list of the complete contents of the text messages sent or received by cellular telephone number (301) 325-XXXX between June 6 and October 31, 2007, and a log of whom Jackson sent messages to from her Verizon e-mail address. Note that Verizon did not keep copies of the actual contents of her e-mail messages.

Because Jackson alleged that the text messages might involve sensitive attorney-client communications, the court appointed a magistrate judge to review them. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay concluded that the text messages did not involve attorney-client privilege and recommended they be turned over to prosecutors "in their entirety."

Excerpts from Justice Department's brief:
Unfortunately, the defendant's Internet services provider, Verizon Internet Services, Inc., has advised the government that it does not store the content of its subscribers' e-mail communications...

It does maintain, however, a "transactional log" for its accounts, including the defendant's account...Since the information will not contain the content of any communications, it is not believed that the defendant has any basis to contest production.

Excerpts from magistrate judge's report:
Verizon produced a package with the contents of text messages that were sent or received by cellular telephone number (301) 325-(XXXX) between June 6 and October 31, 2007. While a few of the messages make reference to Jackson's court case or meetings with her attorney, none of them appear to contain any communications between Jackson and her attorney. For example, on June 6, 2007, at 3:11 p.m. the cellular phone number in question received a text message from cellular phone number (240) 687-(XXXX) that asked "When is ur crt. date?" and approximately one minute later cellular phone number (301) 325-(XXXX) responded "29th." Approximately four minutes later, the person sending messages from (240) 687-(XXXX) then asked, "Did u get all the letters u needed? And what is ur atty. saying?" to which the person sending messages from (301) 325-(XXXX) responded "I meet w/her on Friday." The undersigned did not locate any other text messages that appear to relate to Jackson's court case or that might constitute a communication between Jackson and her attorney...

Verizon made no representations that the package produced reflected all text messages sent or received by (301) 325-(XXXX). The government's subpoena requested text message information from June 21, 2007 until the date of Judge Roberts' Order on October 30, 2007. The messages actually produced cover the following dates (all in 2007): June 6, June 12-14, June 17, June 19, July 3-4, and October 23-31. Whether any messages were sent or received on other days during this time period, and if so why Verizon did not produce them, is unclear.

Verizon produced transaction logs for Jackson's e-mail address...The e-mail transaction log indicates the date and time that each e-mail was sent and the e-mail address of the recipient. The pages of the transaction log that Verizon provided contain records of e-mails sent by Jackson between June 11, and July 9, 2007. The log shows 33 e-mails between Jackson and her attorney, Dani Jahn of the Federal Public Defender's Office, between June 13 and July 9, 2007. Verizon did not produce the contents of any of these e-mails....

See more CNET content tagged:
Police Blotter, text message, warrant, prosecutor, Verizon Communications

24 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Verizon isn't to blame here
Verizon has always fought on the side of it's customers in these cases. Remember afew years ago when Verizon endured a long and expensive court battle to protect it's customers identities from the RIAA looking to sue folks sharing songs ?
And the fight Verizon put up when the government asked all the big phone companies to wiretap it's own citizens ?
There have been others.
Point is, Verizon is on our side, unlike most every other company out there, or our own government.
Wish I had Verizon phone service in my town.
If I had money to spare, I'd send billions to Verizon for being as stand up a company to the American ideal as I have seen exists lately.
I figure the money could pay for more lawyers :)
Posted by bruceslog (112 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Verizon
Two thoughts:

1. Nobody is saying that Verizon is to blame. Thus the "forced" language of the article's headline.

2. If Verizon is "on your side," it would be nice if they would have clearly and unambiguously disavowed opening their network to the NSA. They didn't:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.news.com/2100-1028_3-6035305.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.news.com/2100-1028_3-6035305.html</a>
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
Verizon isn't to blame here
Verizon has always fought on the side of it's customers in these cases. Remember afew years ago when Verizon endured a long and expensive court battle to protect it's customers identities from the RIAA looking to sue folks sharing songs ?
And the fight Verizon put up when the government asked all the big phone companies to wiretap it's own citizens ?
There have been others.
Point is, Verizon is on our side, unlike most every other company out there, or our own government.
Wish I had Verizon phone service in my town.
If I had money to spare, I'd send billions to Verizon for being as stand up a company to the American ideal as I have seen exists lately.
I figure the money could pay for more lawyers :)
Posted by bruceslog (112 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Verizon
Two thoughts:

1. Nobody is saying that Verizon is to blame. Thus the "forced" language of the article's headline.

2. If Verizon is "on your side," it would be nice if they would have clearly and unambiguously disavowed opening their network to the NSA. They didn't:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.news.com/2100-1028_3-6035305.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.news.com/2100-1028_3-6035305.html</a>
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
Instant messages logged?
Almost all phones, these days, support an instant messaging application. Does AOL, Yahoo! or MSN keep a log of all IM conversations?

If not, this would be a more private method of communicating via text message.
Posted by RunVMC (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Instant messages logged?
Almost all phones, these days, support an instant messaging application. Does AOL, Yahoo! or MSN keep a log of all IM conversations?

If not, this would be a more private method of communicating via text message.
Posted by RunVMC (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Whats the difference?
Records obtained by subpoena vs. search warrant, whats the difference? This does not appear to be a violation of anyones rights. It went through proper oversight. What they asked for is reasonable, and relevant to the case. Its when they do this with no case involved, no judge, no crime, and no probable cause, and no notification to those searched, that is the real crime.
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Political vogue is the difference
Right now the politicians are picking on the government. So it is vogue to file meaningless stories like this one to make the government look bad; even if they do it right. The headline is the thing that delivers the message most people see and remember. A more accurate headline, "Verizon subpoenaed; provides text data;" bnut, who'd read that?
Posted by GEBERWEIN (75 comments )
Link Flag
Absent a warrant
issued for probable clause, it is clearly an unconstitutional violation of rights.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Agreeing with "What's the difference"
Correct analysis and one think more. Everyone should take a few hours and spend the time reading the Constitution, espeically the Bill of Rights". The constitution is designed to protect us from the government's intrusion into our "homes". Its too bad that the liberal lawyers have been able to make everything a case of "personal privacy" in their attempts to get the guilty off and back on the street.
Posted by rwellinghurst (8 comments )
Link Flag
Whats the difference?
Records obtained by subpoena vs. search warrant, whats the difference? This does not appear to be a violation of anyones rights. It went through proper oversight. What they asked for is reasonable, and relevant to the case. Its when they do this with no case involved, no judge, no crime, and no probable cause, and no notification to those searched, that is the real crime.
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Political vogue is the difference
Right now the politicians are picking on the government. So it is vogue to file meaningless stories like this one to make the government look bad; even if they do it right. The headline is the thing that delivers the message most people see and remember. A more accurate headline, "Verizon subpoenaed; provides text data;" bnut, who'd read that?
Posted by GEBERWEIN (75 comments )
Link Flag
Absent a warrant
issued for probable clause, it is clearly an unconstitutional violation of rights.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Agreeing with "What's the difference"
Correct analysis and one think more. Everyone should take a few hours and spend the time reading the Constitution, espeically the Bill of Rights". The constitution is designed to protect us from the government's intrusion into our "homes". Its too bad that the liberal lawyers have been able to make everything a case of "personal privacy" in their attempts to get the guilty off and back on the street.
Posted by rwellinghurst (8 comments )
Link Flag
i'll post this a 1000 times
Americans allow the gov't into their underwear via their employers and fight access to their bank accounts,utilities,medical records and property searches. am i missing something here?

if the gov't has access to drain your blood,urine,feces,hair or other dna as a preliminary search for criminal activity, please tell me what the hell else is sacred?

how stupid are you people?
Posted by nedmorlef (49 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i'll post this a 1000 times
Americans allow the gov't into their underwear via their employers and fight access to their bank accounts,utilities,medical records and property searches. am i missing something here?

if the gov't has access to drain your blood,urine,feces,hair or other dna as a preliminary search for criminal activity, please tell me what the hell else is sacred?

how stupid are you people?
Posted by nedmorlef (49 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Steganographic skills to be developed
To send/receive SMS or MMS messages, you will learn to develop some steganographic skills, which will only deter brute forcing.
Posted by Quemannn (76 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Steganographic skills to be developed
To send/receive SMS or MMS messages, you will learn to develop some steganographic skills, which will only deter brute forcing.
Posted by Quemannn (76 comments )
Reply Link Flag
1a
Posted by lauraboss (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Free Text Messaging Online

http://freetextmessagingonline.net

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send a free text message online
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Posted by mahmudul86 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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