Do phone companies actually keep call and text records indefinitely?

Do phone companies actually keep call and text records indefinitely?

Practically every time someone is subpoenaed, they often subpoena their phone records as well.
As a matter of “security” (and just to keep my phone clean), I routinely delete my call and text records at least once a month.
However, if my phone were ever subpoenaed, can they go back and view my call and text records for the last, say, 3 years or so?


I don’t think the phone company has records of the content of the texts for more than a couple of days- but I know I can get bills dating back 18 months on the website ( which will have a record of all calls made and received) and further back if I call customer service. I know the bills used to contain the phone number , date and time of each text message, so I assume they have that information going back a couple of years.

U.S. Businesses are required to keep all accounting documents for at least three years. The IRS recommends at at least seven years. Most companies I’ve worked in accounting for follow the seven year recommendation as the rule.

Edit: While not public utilities, cell phone companies probably fall under the category of utilities and this plus the constant merging that the do, they probably keep all accounting records from Day 1.

Just remembered. AFAIK because prepaid cell phones don’t have bills generated, so there’s no billing trace of calls or texts. That’s why they’re known as ‘burner phones’.

I use T-Mobile prepaid and once I wanted to find a number of someone who called me. Customer service said there’s no trace of any of my calls or texts.

That said, this article talks about how long the different companies keep user data. Note that part of this is cell tower info that’s kept in part for network troubleshooting/performance and all of this is separate from the invoices accounting will keep for at least three to seven years.

Bottom line, lots of way for law enforcement to get your call/text info.

I recall a case in the news - must have been over 30 years ago… in the end, 3 people were convicted of a 2-person murder. The first person “confessed” after an extended interrogation session. A few months later, two other people were caught and charged with the same crime. On appeal, the lawyer got phone records showing the fellow had indeed phoned home to Canada from the USA about the time of the murder. The lawyer mentioned he was lucky, that normally these records are deleted after a year (or was it 18 months?) but the phone company happened to still have them to prove the fellow’s alibi. This was a long distance, cost-money call. I assume it’s possible that nowadays with computer storage being a lot cheaper, such records are kept longer. I figure in those days it would have been the computer tape reels. Plus in those days, AFAIK they did not track local calls.

If they have such good records, why cant they catch the spammers ?

Because the spammers and scammers give them money too.

They could stop spammers, but the financial incentives for them to do so aren’t sufficient.

The cost to store audio of all voice calls made in the US was estimated at ~$30million a year in 2013: It’s almost certainly less than that now.

That was in the context of NSA data mining, but you can apply it to phone companies too. The total revenues of the top 4 US phone companies is just a bit under $400 billion. So the telecom industry could collectively store all audio comms for 0.01% of their revenues. I expect that they could store text messages for a rounding error of that.

And that’s the actual full content of the call/text, which is orders of magnitude more than just the record about the call/text. If they’re not storing this stuff, it’s not because it’s too expensive to store.

First, if it “only” cost $30M to store all audio for a year - that’s less than ten cents for each person in the USA. I assume the OP is asking about metadata, i.e. phone number to and from. That would be a trivial cost. But… storing audio would be a massive intrusion. The question about metadata is - why store it? One would think that after about, say, two years - 99% of any legal questions about phone use would have been asked and the records provided. What reason would there be?

As for spammers - the problem is, for uses like Skype and other VoIP services, there are gateways from the internet to the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) system. Like how email was never designed to prevent SPAM, the phone system was not designed to filter out illicit traffic. In the days where the design of digital switching was originally set, the assumption was interconnect was a very high bar open only to select companies. Today, phone to internet connections allow anyone to pretend to be a specific caller, and the receiving phone system does (or used to) accept any incoming call and attached caller ID data with little or no checking. Some programs I think used to let you compose any caller ID you wanted for your internet-originated call. Changing this technology would I assume be incredibly expensive and need international agreements to sort out.

Data storage is incredibly cheap at scale, and there’s simply not that much data required to store voice conversations.

When I was on a jury, they entered text message info into evidence, but it only included the sender and receiver of the texts, not the actual messages.