The question came up online of whether New Zealand telephone companies store SMS text messages, and whether they then make them available, after the fact, to Police and intelligence agencies. (Note that interception warrants can be applied that capture all communications as they occur.)
We talked to Spark about their policies and they told us:
- They keep the contexts of SMS messages for 30 days.
- They keep call and SMS metadata (from, to, time duration) for 7 years.
- 2degrees keep the contents of SMS messages for 6 months and the metadata for 7 years. (Source: 2degrees.)
- Vodafone keeps the contents of SMS text messages for 6 months and the metadata for 7 years. (Source: Vodafone.)
Location Data Too
We also asked about phone location data. Your phone talks to the cellphone towers and the phone company can use this to work out your location with variable accuracy.
- 2 degrees keeps this information for two years.
- Spark keeps "polling data (cell site location data)" for 7 years but also defines this as "Polling data is associated to when calls are made". A request to clarify this has not been answered.
You can request your own data from Spark under the Privacy Act if you're a customer (use the About Me tool). They charge a minimum of $60 with more time-consuming queries costing more.
They will only give you the information about the calls/texts you made, with their argument being that the ones you received 'belong' to the person who made them. We will be asking the Privacy Commissioner for input into this as this doesn't sound quite right.
Spark insist on you proving that you are who you say you are before handing over the information. For on-account customers this can be done by normal identification procedures, but for pre-pay customers they insist on a statutory declaration that you were the owner of that number during the period asked for.
Obviously this information can also be made available to the Police and intelligence agencies with the presentation of the appropriate warrant or order. We'll have more information about the Police information request forms soon.