Wisconsin County to Archive Text Messages from Government Cellphones

IT staff in Rock County, Wis., have installed an app on each of the 573 county-issued cellphones to manage the archiving process.

by Nate Jackson, The Janesville Gazette / August 13, 2018

(TNS) — JANESVILLE — Rock County, Wis., will begin implementing an archiving system for text messages sent and received on county-issued cellphones, making such communication available as public records.

The program is expected to be operational by Thursday, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said. Once in place, the texts will be stored on a server and kept for about seven years.

County IT staff have installed an app on each of the 573 county-issued cellphones to manage the archiving process. Much like emails sent to and from county email addresses, Smith said all text messages will be stored on a server.

If an open records request is filed for text messages, IT staff will retrieve the messages and, along with department heads, supply “substantive” texts, Smith said.

Because text messages are often used for quicker and more direct communication, many texts could include irrelevant or transient information. Smith said the county is focused on preserving all official communications regardless of medium.

In recent years, Smith said the use of texting for official business has ballooned. He used the Human Services Department, where employees sometimes text supervisors from the field if they need more help, as an example.

As technology continues to shape the way county employees communicate, Smith said officials wanted to keep in step with the state’s public records laws.

“We felt that it was our responsibility to be transparent,” Smith said.

Some county employees will be exempt from the archiving system. Nick Osborne, an assistant to the county administrator, wrote in an email to The Gazette that detectives in the Bureau of Investigation will not have their messages stored because they could include information about ongoing investigations.

Osborne also wrote that investigators sometimes issue cellphones to anonymous informants. Those texts will also be exempt from the system.

For years, county officials have been trying to develop a text message archive, but the technology wasn’t available until late last year. The county began vetting services, and the Rock County Board approved a resolution in June authorizing Smarsh Cellular as the county’s archiving provider.

Rock County will be one of the first to adopt the system, Osborne wrote.

In its June resolution, the county board approved $52,000 to install the system. Smith said that full amount will not be spent because the system will only be in place for part of this year.

©2018 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.