Survey highlights challenges of retaining public sector text messages

When it comes to capturing and archiving text messages, a recent survey from Smarsh found many government agencies are not keeping up with best practices required to satisfy public records requests. Smarsh’s 2018 Public Sector Text & Mobile Communications Survey offers insights from government professionals at all levels from across the US regarding mobile device management and the use of technology in handling public records requests for email and text message communication.

Some 70% of respondents from local to the federal government said text messages are an allowed communication tool for business, at the same time almost half of respondents acknowledged they are not capturing text message communications. Almost of quarter of public entities that participated in the survey said that they would likely be unable to produce text messages from top official if these records were requested.

“Our findings reveal a significant gap between the communication channels allowed for business and the retention and oversight necessary to mitigate the risk of violating sunshine laws,” the report states.

The law in many cases will treat text messages as public documents, requiring the archival of text messages sent for government business, including those sent or received on private devices for government business. This means agencies must be able to produce these text message records in the event of a records request or e-discovery process.

Government agencies that responded to the Smarsh survey cited a lack of funding as the No. 1 reason for failing to archive text messages. The second leading reason was a belief that such archives were not required by law followed by the explanation that the agency was awaiting federal guidance. The fourth leading reason given for failing to archive text messages was that current technology solutions are too complicated.

“The oversight of mobile devices is complex, and while device usage policies appear to recognize and embrace the economies of the bring-your- own-device (BYOD) trend, the sheer number of different carriers, hardware and mobile operating systems IT teams are responsible for managing erodes confidence in records capture accuracy, and in their ability to locate and produce records generated on mobile devices,” according to the report.

Smarsh finds that agencies and other government entities without effective text message archiving are leaving themselves at risk at a time when Federal Freedom of Information Act litigation is up 26% and rising. So far this year almost three FOIA lawsuits are being filed per day.

“Agencies with a solution in place to capture SMS/text most often pointed to workflow modernization as a key area for improvement — a full third of respondents said that procuring software solutions that meet their needs was extremely important in increasing their confidence in their ability to capture, manage and produce SMS/text messages for records requests, indicating that a large proportion of agencies feel that their current systems fall short,” states the report.