Survey: Government Agencies Lack Confidence in Ability to Respond To Public Records Requests For SMS/Text Messages

Smarsh findings reflect how broad use of personal devices complicates retention and oversight for public sector teams

PORTLAND, Ore.--()--Smarsh, providing comprehensive information archiving solutions for compliance, e-discovery and risk management, today released findings from the 2018 Public Sector Text Message & Mobile Communications Survey. The survey revealed a significant gap between the communication channels that government agencies allow for business, and the retention and oversight necessary to respond to public records requests.

The ubiquity of mobile communication devices and channels has fundamentally transformed the way work gets done — and the public sector hasn’t been immune to this shift. Increasingly, business-related text messages sent from government-issued devices or from privately owned devices are being treated as public records and must be retained by law. Agencies must be able to produce these records to satisfy public records requests or for e-discovery events and investigations. Unfortunately, in an era of heightened scrutiny and increasing litigation, many government agencies are leaving themselves vulnerable to risk. Survey respondents pointed to several different reasons for not implementing a retention and oversight solution, but one consistent theme emerged: most government agencies had little confidence that they could respond quickly, if at all, to a public records request for SMS/text messages.

Key Findings

Smarsh surveyed a sample of professionals from federal, state, county and city government organizations across the United States to understand how agencies view business-related electronic communications sent on mobile devices, what tools and technologies they have in place to manage public records requests for these communications (including SMS/text), their confidence in their ability to process requests promptly, and general practices around public records request fulfillment. The survey found that nearly half of government organizations that allow SMS/text messaging for official business aren’t proactively capturing and retaining those messages, leaving themselves highly vulnerable to risk of litigation and financial penalties.

Key survey findings include:

  • Organizations predominantly allow personal devices to be used at work, and just over one-third choose a government-issued device-only scenario.
  • 70% of organizations report allowing SMS/text for official business communications, however, 46% are not formally capturing and retaining these messages.
  • Two-thirds of organizations allow employees to use their own devices for official business, yet 65% of respondents are not retaining SMS/text messages from personal devices.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents lacked confidence that they could provide specifically requested mobile text messages promptly if responding to a public records or litigation request.
  • 23% of organizations reported that, if requested, it was unlikely they could produce SMS/text messages from their organizational leader at all.
  • 77% of organizations indicated that modernizing their records management workflows is a high priority, and 47% said it’s extremely important to simplify records requests processes.

Without a technology-based solution to capture and retain SMS/text messages, many agencies report relying directly on employees to produce text messages themselves in response to a request. Misalignment across the organization on what constitutes a public record further adds to the complexity of producing SMS/text messages. Without clear and enforced guidelines and policies, employee retention of their own communications is inconsistent at best. Organizations also frequently cited the technical complexity of creating and enforcing policy in a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) scenario as a reason for low confidence — different messaging platforms, operating systems and devices make a one-size-fits all approach challenging to implement.

"Our survey findings shine a light on the ongoing challenges agencies are facing around the retention and oversight of SMS/text messages," said Bonnie Page, General Counsel and SVP, Business Development at Smarsh. "It’s clear that courts consider SMS/text messages (and other forms of electronic messages) to be open records. Government entities must take a good look at their IT policies and procedures and ensure they’re capturing these communications and are able to produce them upon request. Otherwise, they are putting tax payer resources at risk in the form of expensive open records lawsuits.”

The survey focused on roles that reported being involved in the public records request fulfillment process, with more than half indicating that they were personally responsible for management and response. Respondents were part of city, county and state government organizations who work in administration, IT, public records management and communications/marketing. The majority work for agencies with between 100 and 500 employees. To download a copy of the 2018 Public Sector Text Message & Mobile Communications Survey, visit

About Smarsh

Smarsh® delivers a comprehensive and integrated suite of information archiving applications and services that help companies protect themselves and manage risk. Its centralized platform provides a unified compliance and e-discovery workflow across the entire range of digital communications, including email, social media, websites, instant messaging, mobile text messaging and voice. For more information about Smarsh, please visit


Lumina Communications for Smarsh, Inc.
John Kreuzer, 408-896-3307

Release Summary

Smarsh, provider of archiving solutions for compliance, e-discovery and risk management, today released findings from its 2018 Public Sector Survey.


Lumina Communications for Smarsh, Inc.
John Kreuzer, 408-896-3307