Government agencies on federal, state, and local / city levels have seen a noticeable increase in the amount text messages exchanged in the workplace. Whether a government employee is using a worked-issued device provided by their department or if they are on a personal BYOD (bring your own device) phone at work, there is an growing need and mandate by governmental agencies to save and retain all work related text messages. These departmental requirements are happening, albeit slowly, across many departments and agencies including law enforcement, city planning, public works, taxation, finance and more.
Some courts rule that work-related text messages on personal cell phones are public record
Even with public information requests becoming more commonplace, most governmental agencies in 2018 still have no overarching internal requirement on retaining mobile SMS communications. However, in some states, the subject appears to be gaining importance as a result of various court rulings like the California Supreme Court decision which states that text messages in the workplace that relate to public business are in fact considered a public record. It also doesn’t matter whether or not the text messages are sent or received are on a government issued mobile device or an employee’s personal phone. Furthermore, according to recent report by ABC News, more states and courts are ruling that text messages sent on the job fall under the same kinds of laws that apply to both emails and hard copy paper documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Even back in 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that text messages sent and received on a state prosecutor's personal mobile phone were actually public record since the content of the SMS messages pertained to public business. As more courts pass decisions in favor of open government principles like some of the aforementioned case examples, more governmental agencies will be focusing on implementing text message retention solutions that both complement their department workflow and simultaneously ensure that employee SMS data is seamlessly captured and archived.
Solutions for government agencies to capture text messages
There are various software solutions for government agencies to save, print, and retain text messages and SMS conversations exchanged in the workplace. The choices often depend on what types of devices are being used in an office and also how many employees are in an organization. Typically, saving text messages from non-iOS devices such as Android, Windows, and Google phones, is a bit more non-uniform compared saving SMS data from iOS devices. The reason for this is the numerous variations of different devices in the non-iOS smartphone market and also how differently the device drivers and backups function on these types of mobile phones. Today blog focuses on Apple iOS devices and options for governmental departments to export and capture text messages and iMessages on iPhones or iPads.
Screenshots versus software
Screenshots - For any governmental agency, taking screenshots on an iPhone is a quick and easy way to capture a few text messages. However, this method is best served when an agency only needs to capture a minimal amount of SMS messages. The more messages that need to be saved, the more impractical the screenshot method becomes. If an agency or organization is looking to save and retain text messages ongoing (daily, weekly, monthly) from multiple devices and different employees, the screenshot option is not going to be a realistic long term solution. Also, the screenshot option will not show information like the message date and time on each individual message.
Taking a screenshot on an iPhone or iPad differs slightly depending on which model is being used. Apple has specific instructions here for all devices.
Software - Finding the right software solution to capture and save text messages in a government agency can be a challenge. Once of the most robust and cost-effective solutions currently available is Decipher TextMessage, a desktop program that runs on any Windows or Mac computer. The software is a already a proven solution used by many federal and state agencies to save iPhone text messages within the workplace. Decipher TextMessage can be implemented as a stand-alone solution or alongside any enterprise mobile device management system that is already in place in a government office. When deployed, IT department heads can choose to either include the software as part of their desktop image or simply roll it out to specific employees or individuals.
Benefits of using Decipher TextMessage in a governmental agency include:
Privacy - Only the user or organization running the software has access to text messages or SMS data saved with the program. Nothing is stored on servers or in the cloud.
No Apple ID required - Users never have to enter their Apple iTunes ID or log-in or use the software.
Windows or Mac - Decipher TextMessage runs on any Windows or Mac computer and is fully supported for Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10. It's also supported for OS X Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, and El Capitan as well as macOS Sierra, High Sierra, and Mojave.
Direct to PDF export - The program has the ability to save text messages in PDF format so that the messages can be quickly captured, emailed, or printed out.
Date and time for every message exported - Decipher TextMessage includes the date and time of each message, unlike the display in the iPhone Messages app, which requires swiping to the left to reveal times. Or if you prefer the exported transcript to be more like the Messages app, you can choose to show only the date in the exported text message transcript.
Contact name and phone number on every message exported - Decipher TextMessage is the only program that includes the contact name and number on every single text message sent and received. This preference is useful for discovery and evidence.
Search capability - The entire text message history of any iPhone or iPad is searchable for contacts, phone numbers, and key words or phrases.
Group Text Message Filtering - Group text messages are displayed and selectable for easy access to see all messages and contacts pertaining to any workplace group chat or message thread.
Encrypted Backups - Decipher TextMessage is compatible with all of the current iPhone encrypted backup formats.
Legacy iTunes backups accessibility - Any previous iTunes backups on a computer will automatically be displayed, giving the user immediate access to older text message data.
Installation on unlimited computers - The program can be installed on as many computers as needed, either Windows or Mac.
Discounted device activation pricing for large numbers of devices - There are licensing discounts and custom options for government organizations to accommodate large numbers of devices.
How exactly are text messages saved and captured?
Decipher TextMessage reads from the iTunes backup on any Windows or Mac computer. The program keeps a separate history of all the text messages and iMessages that are contained in the backup. This includes all photo and video attachments sent and received by both parties. After backing up a device, text messages can be quickly accessed and saved.
The steps to save iPhone text messages in a government office are:
Backup an iPhone or iPad via Apple iTunes on a computer.
Launch Decipher TextMessage and the iPhone or iPad will appear in the left-hand column of the software.
Select a contact or group chat whose messages you want to export.
Select “Export via PDF.”
Below is an example of an exported PDF containing iPhone text messages and attachments. Note the contact name and phone number displayed on each individual text message.
For many organizations, there is often not an urgent need or crisis to export specific text messages, but rather more of a necessity to adopt a workflow whereby text messages are preventatively backed up and securely captured ongoing. This way, should the need ever arise in the future to revisit or access text messages from an employee's backup, the messages will already have been saved and read into Decipher TextMessage and immediately accessible. Every time a device is backed up via iTunes, newer messages will be automatically imported into Decipher TextMessage the next time the program is opened.
2019 and beyond - Will government offices be required to capture text messages?
From individual state and court rulings in recent years to ongoing updates in the Freedom of Information Act, one thing we know for sure is that there will only be a increasing need in the coming months and years for government agencies to document and capture text messages. Regardless of what specific solution any government agency or organization implements, the outcome should be an SMS retention software program that enables text messages to be collected and captured with ease while simultaneously giving the agency the ability to quickly export messages should there be a sudden need to provide documents or evidence for litigation or a public records request.
If you have any questions about how best to save text messages and manage iOS backups in a governmental organization, feel free to contact us through our support page. We're a San Francisco / Phoenix based software company with an expertise in managing iOS data and backups.