Do Text Messages Really Need to be Archived?

Yes, your organization’s text messages need to get archived, but why? The quick answer…it’s vital to your company’s reputation and security!

Text messages have become a mainstay of modern communication, both for personal use and business communication. Because of the increased use of mobile devices in business, it’s even more essential that your organization archive the mobile communication data created by and sent by those devices.

With the increased adoption of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, organizations must be aware of the risks associated with employees who use their personal devices for business efforts. These days, because of BYOD, knowledgeable companies help to protect themselves and their interests by implementing mobile device policies that include requirements for archiving all electronic communication data (SMS, MMS, BBM Messages, and Email). Not only do these policies provide protection, but they also clarify the boundaries for the management (oversight) of the data, and because your employees must abide by the policies, they understand how to prevent workplace abuse.

But maybe you aren’t convinced that not archiving text messages can be disastrous. You’re already doing enough, right? Why should your company archive this data? Your mobile carrier has records of all the text messages…right?

Let’s take a look at a real world case study of the archiving practices, or lack thereof, within government agencies in the State of Washington. In 2014, state and local government agencies in Washington learned the hard way about the importance of mobile communication archiving. Many agencies quickly realized that none of their mobile communication data was being archived, and they had no way to respond to freedom of information records requests.

Text Messages? What Text Messages?

There are more than 700 individual state agencies, comprised of counties, cities, universities, schools, ports, tribes and junior taxing districts, in Washington state. Within those various agencies, employees make use of approximately 88,000 mobile phones for  communication, with those devices generating hundreds of thousands of message. Depending on the content of the messages created on these mobile devices, most specifically, the communication data that must be kept as public record, the data must be archived. According to the State of Washington, all public records must be retained for six years. Despite these requirements many of the agencies did not have an archiving solution in place, and none of their mobile device communication data was retained.

Many local and regional governments and agencies throughout the state, piggyback on a boilerplate contract with Verizon, used by all levels of government, and administered by the state’s Department of Enterprise Services. Most of these agencies wrongly assumed that since the text messages went through the mobile carrier, that the messages were also stored by the carrier. Regrettably, Verizon has no obligation to archive this data and it just deletes the content.

“The ultimate responsibility lies with the record creator. They cannot pass it on to third parties.”

-Steve Excell,
Washington State Archivist

The evidence of this fact came to light in November of 2014. A resident in the city of Fife, Washington, made a public records request for 4 years of the text messages from the City Manager’s cellphone. The cellphone was purchased, and services were paid for by the City of Fife. Fife City Attorney, Loren Combs knew exactly what to do. He requested the text message data from Verizon. Verizon stated that Combs would need a subpoena to be able to access those records. “I was dumbfounded in this case,” Combs said, “…they wouldn’t give it to us without having to file a lawsuit to get our own records.” He got the subpoena and made the request to Verizon. Their response: “The records that you requested no longer exist because they are beyond Verizon’s period of retention.” The official response from Verizon said that “… text message content is maintained for 3-5 days from the date of transmission/receipt. There (is) no text message content available for your requested time frame.”

“Those public records (text messages) 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. They only keep the messages for a couple of days, and then it’s gone.”

Steve Excell, Washington State Archivist, reaffirmed Verizon’s position and stated, “The ultimate responsibility lies with the record creator. They cannot pass it on to third parties.”

Archiving Text Messages is Essential for Organizations

Excell is correct. It is each organization’s responsibility to archive their electronic communication data. The reality is, just as email archiving has become a “must have” for every organization, the archiving of mobile communication data, like text messages, SMS, MMS, and BlackBerry BBM Messages, has now also become a “must have” in any IT environment. If Fife City had a mobile archiving solution in place, they would have quickly and easily been able to access the text messages that were asked for in the public records request.

If you think this case study is applicable only in Washington State, you are mistaken. Not only do most States have specific archiving requirements for organizations and government agencies, but there are also several Federal compliance regulations that also apply. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that organizations have a “Duty to Preserve” all Electronic Stored Information (ESI). And if you are operating a business in a federally regulated industry like financial, healthcare, or legal services, there are even more stringent regulations regarding the retention of electronic communication data.

So, yes…Archiving mobile text messages is essential to every organization. This leads to the next question… How do you archive text messages?

The simple answer is to install an archiving solution. The the best approach would be to extend your current email archiving software to include mobile text message data. This way all your electronic communication data is stored in one central location, and is quickly and easily searched and exported as needed. Having a unified archive like Retain with email and mobile data management, has many advantages.

  • One Centralized Archive – All your data is in one database, not split into separate solutions, or on separate machines throughout your organization.
  • eDiscovery – Just one centralized place to search for ALL your communication data.
  • Reduced administration costs – Just one system to manage.
  • Web Access Viewer – Easy administrator or end-user access to your email and text message archives from any web enabled device.
  • ROI – All these points lead to a greater return on your investment.

Here is short video that shows how Retain Unified Archiving provides your company with the benefits of mobile communication data archiving, as well as archiving email, social media and instant messaging data storage.

So…What are the next steps you should take?

Schedule a time to talk to me about text message archiving, or any of your archiving needs. You can easily schedule a time online at, or email me at


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