Can a Private Investigator: Get Phone and Text Records?


Man on cell phone
Cell Phone Records and Texts - Can Private Investigators Obtain Them?

I got a call today asking whether I could help a client obtain phone records. Specifically, the potential client was inquiring whether a private investigator could collect text messages between two people deciding to hire him for a C-level management role.

Can a private investigator get phone records? Are text messages obtainable? The answer may not surprise you, as you are probably aware that it is illegal for any person to pretext a telephone company to gather phone data. This topic includes private investigators who may not illegally get text message records from any carrier.

PHONE RECORDS AND TEXT MESSAGES

We can easily understand that text messages are part of a phone record since text messages will most commonly derive from a mobile device such as a cell phone.

Phone records may include the phone number of the caller and the person called, the date, time, and perhaps the IP address of the caller. Phone records will also contain data from which switch the call originated in hard-wired phones (do those exist anymore?) And in the case of the mobile phone, the metadata will contain the cell phone towers the user used to make the calls.

What is an SMS Text?

SMS is known as Short Messaging Service–text messages.

Text messages will contain much of the same content:

  • The sender's phone number

  • The recipient's phone number

  • The time of the text

  • The date of the text

  • The location of the person sending

  • And in some cases, mobile providers keep the content of the text

As you are probably aware, most text messages are constrained to 160 characters or less.

I am not sure if this is true, but I understand that the man who invented this technique used postcards as a sample. He randomly sampled many handwritten postcards to find that most messages were 160 or fewer characters.

Multi-Media Service (MMS) messages can have up to 1600 characters.

If you use iPhone to iPhone messaging, then you have unlimited characters.

I'm sure there is a lot more to say about the history of SMS, but this article aims to help you understand how it all relates to private investigators and whether they can obtain phone records and text messages.


How Long Are My Text Messages Retained?

Text messages are retained by some carriers, each with different retention periods.