Phone tracking device could avoid Orange's lost text problems [Orlando Sentinel]
(Orlando Sentinel (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 28--The same technology used to catch sexual predators who text children could be used to help politicians preserve text messages about public business.
Several Orange County leaders deleted text messages from their cellphones during a Sept. 11 hearing on a sick-time ballot measure. Some texts were later recovered, but some officials say they've lost the messages from their personal phones. The county is now being sued over the issue.
A California company called eAgency Mobile Security is marketing Blackbox Mobile, which allows governments and companies to monitor, store and quickly retrieve phone data, including texts.
Orange has recently purchased a similar service from another company to install on county-issued cellphones.
"This is a major technological solution," said First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen.
As smartphones become as powerful and pervasive as computers to communicate, governments must come up with ways to comply with records laws for text messages, just as they struggled initially to save and recover email, Petersen said.
Text-monitoring applications are as easy to install on a phone as an Angry Birds game. They work on all major phone brands and basically forward all text messages, video or documents to a server for storage.
Most Orange leaders involved in the texting dispute say they would rather carry only one phone. The idea of carrying a second county-issued phone to conduct official business is impractical, they say.
So one solution they're considering is continuing to use personal phones for county business and forwarding texts that deal with official business onto a public email account.
Loading the Blackbox service or similar technologies onto the county officials' personal phone would capture all those messages while also putting text messages from certain numbers -- a spouse, business partner or child -- off-limits.
"It gives the public officials some level of comfort," Petersen said. "They don't have to save these things."
Orange already archives emails and has a computer terminal open to the public where they can be viewed.
The Blackbox application costs $4.95 a month per phone. Petersen said that those costs would be minimal compared with what a local government would face in a protracted legal fight over records, such as the one Orange County is ensnared in.
Citizens for a Greater Orange County, which backed the sick-time initiative, has taken the county to court, accusing it of violating Florida "Government in the Sunshine" laws when the commission voted to keep its proposal off the ballot.
Dan Davidson, a regional sales director for eAgency Mobile Security, said the company learned a lot from children who didn't want their messages to be seen -- such as discovering applications designed to erase quickly all texts. But he said Blackbox captures those, too.
"If there's accountability, that's what any taxpaying citizen wants," Davidson said. "Texts have to be treated like email."
Mayor Teresa Jacobs has called for a raft of reforms that include a push to stop using personal phones and email for county business. But it's not clear all commissioners want to abandon their personal devices.
Through a spokesman Friday, the mayor said she would support a policy that required elected officials and top staff who continue to use personal cellphones for public business to install an application like Blackbox Mobile.
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