Insight by T-Mobile

Countdown to Compliance: Understanding NARA’s rules for text messaging

Federal agencies have just weeks to prepare for changes in digital record standards, here’s how agencies can help ensure compliance.

This content was written by George Fischer, Senior Vice President, Sales, T-Mobile Business Group.

A pivotal deadline looms large for federal agencies: digital message compliance. Starting June 30, 2024, all federal agencies will be required to archive agency records digitally. That’s right, the end of paper culture is finally here. But for far too long, there’s been a lot of confusion over what exactly digital messages entail, what the expectations are for reporting them and a lack of tools to submit data to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in a way that’s easy, secure and proactive. And to further complicate things, NARA broadened the meaning of digital messages in January 2023 to include text messages, so there’s yet another factor to consider. Let’s focus on text messages since that’s the latest addition.

So many important business transactions, official policies and decisions are done via texting, so failing to archive them can make it hard to stay transparent, accountable and in compliance with the law. Once NARA’s deadline hits, non-compliance can lead to information gaps during federal investigations, create PR headaches, and potentially result in substantial fines and penalties.

Understanding NARA’s text message regulations

So, what exactly is NARA tracking? Text messages from federal workers are deemed public records and must be archived. NARA is expecting access to digital messages sent or received by federal employees, including SMS and MMS messages – meaning photos, videos, voice notes and even emojis. Considering these different types of messages plus the fact that they need to be monitored across agency networks, personal devices and different phone operating systems like Android and iOS means there are several layers of complexity to navigate.

NARA also expects agencies to retain metadata associated with these texts. Including timestamps, device information, attachments and even emoji reactions. Yes, you read that right – even a simple thumbs-up emoji might serve as evidence in a federal case.

The NARA guidelines recommend evaluating whether messages need to be archived based on whether they contain:

  • Evidence of agency policies, business or mission
  • Information that is exclusively available in electronic messages
  • Official agency information
  • A business need for the information

It’s clear that federal agencies are facing an increasingly complex and dynamic digital landscape filled with constantly changing expectations. Outdated processes are no match for this complexity, and they’re holding agencies back from staying compliant. The answer? Solutions that do the heavy lifting. To make life easier, agencies should have a platform that automatically captures text messages, images, and videos, and is tightly integrated with their wireless provider. It should also leverage the latest security protocols and make it easy to generate reports that are audit ready.

Streamlining text message archiving for federal agencies

Companies like 3rd Eye Technologies have spent years perfecting a solution to keep data safe for federal organizations, including agencies in charge of the highest levels of national security and intelligence. That’s why T-Mobile teamed up with the mobile solutions provider to make it as easy as possible for federal customers to know that the data they’re archiving is not only easy to manage but safe.

Mystic Messaging Archival is a turn-key solution from 3rd Eye Technologies that specializes in securely capturing and archiving texts – that includes SMS and MMS message logs for federal and enterprise customers. Mystic is fully integrated into the T-Mobile network, meaning there is no need for any additional applications or software on the phone, making implementation across the agency simple and swift once the agency purchases the solution from 3rd Eye Technologies or T-Mobile. And because the solution is configured at the network level, it is archiving every SMS/MMS message in real-time and is storing them securely for reporting, so the messages do not need to be self-reported unless specified by agency protocols. The messages then travel over 5G where they’re archived in a hosted cloud and the data remains owned by the agency.

Mystic’s cloud-based solution is also “FedRAMP Ready” in the FedRAMP marketplace, which means it is ready for Agency Authority to Operate (ATO). Not all archiving solutions have that distinction due to the highly rigorous standards involved, so it’s a major advantage. And when pairing Mystic technology with T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network and 5G standalone technology, messages are transmitted over a secure channel, enhancing protection against vulnerabilities such as cyber attacks (commonly found in Wi-Fi networks).

Mystic also ensures that SMS/MMS data from any lost, stolen, or damaged mobile device is automatically archived, safeguarding information despite the physical status of the device.

Preparing for NARA compliance

Mystic’s eDiscovery console – the mechanism that actually generates the reports — is designed to streamline the entire process of collecting, storing, managing, securing and reviewing text messages from mobile devices. This centralized reporting console consolidates all data from subscribed agency enterprise mobile devices. This console is accessible by the Agency Headquarters, allowing for efficient management and oversight of all archived communications. This way agencies can quickly and easily respond to all types of legal requests, investigations or regulatory requirements. And because Mystic and T-Mobile are already tightly integrated through the 5G network, getting set up takes only 10 days or less.

Here’s the bottom line: agencies need to move fast. The NARA deadline is close and the right tools and partners will make all the difference in preparing for it. The clock is ticking, but it’s not too late to get ahead of the game with a solution that makes text archiving easy, integrates into your existing processes seamlessly and stays up to date with the latest guidelines so you don’t have to.

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