SMS Text Messages | Recovery from Carriers

Over on the social networking site reddit a topic came up that you may find interesting- the technical ability of telephone carriers to restore txt sms messages.

The default stance of the carriers seems to be “no we can not recovery txt messages” however that seems to be at odds with reality:

Kobe Bryant case.

In Flagg v. City of Detroit, 2008 WL 787061 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 20, 2008) (text messages were subpoenaed from SkyTel, a cell phone provider) although I don’t know the time period on that one.

In a more recent case Verizon restored nearly 5 months of text messages: ZDNet

Do you have any experience or tips in successfully compelling a carrier (AT&T in this instance) to restore messages when subpoenaed?  Does it take an order from a judge?



The foregoing is the content of a message sent to me by Liam Randall.  Liam gave me permission to repost the message .   My comment:  The rules of procedure for a civil lawsuit provide for "discovery" of relevant records, which can include text messages.  In a lawsuit involving a telecom subscriber, the opposing party might invoke the rules of discovery to demand that the subscriber request that the telecom produce whatever records it may possess.  If the subscriber does not cooperate with the demand, then the opponent might ask the court to impose sanctions on the subscriber.   However, cooperation of the subscriber may not persuade the telecom to do much. By 

Update.  The document posted here apparently shows how long telcos keep different classes of subscriber data.   And a discussion here describes the likely result of a subpoena for  text messages from a cell phone provider.

Update 2013:  Steps for preservation and acquisition of text, photos, logs, deleted records from mobile device.

Latest Update April 2013:  How long mobile carriers retain data.

Best wisdom as of September 2014: The text, photos and other data you want may well be synced to a backup that can be accessed by legal means such as

  • a subpoena, 
  • an e-discovery demand in a civil lawsuit or 
  • simply a polite letter of request.


  1. Generally carriers do not retain text messages. They do retain logs which can be used against messages recovered from the devices directly. Forensic experts such as myself extract the data and format them into court admissable transcripts. See

  2. For latest information on how long mobile providers keep SMS messages and related meta data, see: