Lessons From the EPA’s Lack of Text Message Preservation

March 26, 2020by Smarsh

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Record audits and records requests can happen at any time, and government agencies at all levels must be able to respond at a moment’s notice. But when it comes to text messages, records requests can get tricky.

Just ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In a recent congressionally requested audit, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General found that the EPA needed to strengthen its records management controls by:

  • Documenting procedures for responding to congressional requests
  • Providing instructions to employees responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on what to search (in particular, government-issued mobile devices) when an FOIA request is submitted to the EPA
  • Preserving non-transitory text message records before mobile devices are replaced or before text messages are deleted from the mobile device

The audit’s report emphasized the EPA’s lack of controls over its employees’ text messaging.

“Text messaging is a common form of communication for federal employees,” said Teresa Richardson, report contributor. “We found that this form of communication is very common among EPA employees with government-issued mobile devices. Collectively, they generated 3.1 million texts over a six-month period.”

All government agencies should be prepared for records requests

Texting enables government employees to communicate more efficiently. And though state or local governments may not be generating the same volume of texts as federal agencies, they are just as liable for records requests that include text messages.

“We requested text message samples from a senior official’s mobile device for a specific time period,” said Richardson. “The official responded that he did not have any text messages for that period.”

Apparently, the device had been automatically set to delete text messages every 30 days. Any texts with government-related business would have been deleted despite federal laws requiring the preservation of these texts.

The inability to produce records upon request is a costly risk for agencies. A Florida city had to pay $45,321 to settle a 2018 suit that alleged that it violated public records law, because it could not properly produce text messages in response to a records request.

“Texts that are substantive contain informational value and should be stored in an approved records management system,” said Richardson. “Agencies must capture and manage these records in compliance with Federal records management laws, regulations and policies.”

How can Smarsh help federal agencies capture and preserve texts?

Many federal agencies don’t have a solution in place for the retention and oversight of text messages, which causes problems and poses significant risk when facing an FOIA request, an investigation, e-discovery event or litigation.

Smarsh offers the only SMS archiving solution available for federal agencies that can capture text messages directly from leading mobile carriers, like Verizon and AT&T. Mitigate the potential risks of using mobile business communications with text message capture and archiving.

Automatic text capture and preservation:

  • Simplifies and streamlines message capture and archive
    Messages are automatically captured along with all metadata and indexed in a powerful, unified archive. Indexed messages can also be quickly retrieved with powerful search features
  • Captures texts in original formats
    Messages can be viewed in proper context for each message type or conversation. Attachments including images, videos and other files can also be viewed or downloaded in their original form.
  • Works with mobile device management (MDM) integrations
    Direct carrier capture can be used with an enterprise MDM solution to prevent employees from using non-approved messaging applications, reducing the risk of non-compliance related to electronic records management.
  • Supports mixed device environments
    Texts can be captured from any supported carrier regardless of device or operating system.
  • Maintains security protocols
    Deployed with AWS GovCloud, which was built with stringent security and compliance controls for government agencies to host sensitive data.

Learn more about how your federal agency can better capture and preserve text messages with the Federal Archive. State, county and city agencies can also improve how they capture and archive records—including text messages—with the Smarsh Professional Archive.

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Archiving and Compliance Blog

Our Blog explores the news, trends and best practices in electronic recordkeeping. It’s about managing and getting value from your electronic communications data. It’s about satisfying legal and regulatory obligations. It’s all about turning compliance liability into business insight.

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Smarsh handles information you submit to Smarsh in accordance with its Privacy Policy. By clicking "submit", you consent to Smarsh processing your information and storing it in accordance with the Privacy Policy and agree to receive communications from Smarsh and its third-party partners regarding products and services that may be of interest to you. You may withdraw your consent at any time by emailing privacy@smarsh.com.