You are here

Text messages may be vital evidence in litigation, so backup regularly and export to pdf when needed as evidence

Research articles : 

Introduction

 
Elon Musk jokes that humans are regressing because they now communicate more by text message and less by email, and that using two thumbs for input is a step backward from using 10 fingers on a full size keyboard. While that may be true (my infrequent texter fat thumbs and quick full-size keyboard typing fingers agree!), the reality is that an increasing number of business people have important communications by text message, and when disputes arise text messages may be vital evidence to prove, or defend, a case in litigation.
 
When it comes to text messages and litigation at least three key points apply:
  • The text messages must be available, and not, for example, lost on a phone dropped in the lake when fishing!
  • The text messages must be shareable in a useful format (e.g. clean pdf, not  scanned and OCR’d), with the dates of each message clearly indicated, photo content displayed, etc. Taking photographs of a phone screen using a camera is not a good method, but is still far more common that it should be!
  • Phones are prized, and private, possessions that few clients want to relinquish for even a short while (or they may be distant and so bringing the phone to a lawyer’s office is not convenient), so in many cases (even absent coronavirus concerns) clients may need to be directly involved in extracting text messages, and this article is intended as a roadmap for such clients.
 
There is available, for use with Android phones and iPhones, computer software that allows text and other phone data to be backed up by downloading it to your computer. Both phone type (Android or iPhone) and computer type (Windows or Mac) have to be considered. Some options are listed below, but, quick legal disclaimer, I have not tried all of the tools mentioned in this article and do not expressly recommend any of them in particular.
 
For Android phones:
Wide Angel Software Droid Transfer = $38
Windows computers only, not Mac.
 
Coolmuster Android Assistant = $30
Windows and Mac and computers
 
For IPhones:
iExplorer = $40
Windows and Mac and computers
 
Phoneview = $30
Mac computers only, not Windows
 
CopyTrans = $20
Windows computers only, not Mac.
 
The list of available options is obviously far longer than the above. As well, phone manufacturers may offer backup services, but in some cases the backup may be an encrypted file that can only be viewed by importing it back into a phone and such tools may not allow export of messages to pdf as is needed for disclosure in litigation, so in many cases third party software will be required.
 
It is important to keep the first key point mentioned above in mind i.e. the text messages need to be available and not at the bottom of a lake or lost elsewhere. Therefore, it is unquestionably good practice for anyone who regularly sends text messages for business purposes to set up scheduled backups to ensure text messages are backed up to a cloud folder (at least weekly) to ensure old messages are available even if the phone is lost. Some of the software listed above does not offer scheduled backups and so may be useful only for extracting currently available messages.
 
Synctech’s SMS Backup & Restore is an Android app that costs just $7.50 for the “Pro”, or $0 for the not Pro version if you are willing to allow ads – but at that price you really shouldn’t!. This app:
  • Allows weekly, daily, or hourly backups of text messages and call logs to Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive.
  • Allows export of sufficiently formatted pdf file output of text messages for most litigation cases.
 
Included below is a guide to use of Synctech’s SMS Backup & Restore tool.
 
Finding an iPhone equivalent “load on your phone” app similar to Synctech’s SMS Backup & Restore tool for Android is difficult (probably impossible) because of the severe restrictions that Apple places on the ability of in phone apps to access messages and call history, so iPhone users may be limited to using computer software as listed above.
 

Guide to use of Synctech’s SMS Backup & Restore Pro

Installing SMS Backup & Restore
On your Android phone, purchase SMS Backup & Restore at the Google Play store and install it. The below screenshot shows the icon to look out for:
 

 
 
After installation there should be an icon on your Android phone’s apps screen:
 

 
 
After opening the app a screen such as the below should provide the option to create a backup:
 

 
Everyone who regularly sends text messages for business purposes should set up scheduled backups to ensure text messages are backed up at least weekly, and clicking “Set up a Schedule” as shown in the screenshot above will allow scheduled backups to be set up. The process is logical, just follow the prompts, and you will have to give the app access to your cloud account (Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive) to allow the backups to be saved there. The Syntech privacy policy at  https://synctech.com.au/privacy-policy/ outlines what data the app will access and how your privacy is dealt with.
 
If your immediate goal is just to retrieve specific text messages then you can create a local backup (i.e. a backup stored on the phone itself) and ignore the warnings that local backups are not safe (i.e. they are lost if the phone is lost).  Making a local backup avoids the need to connect to the cloud immediately, but as mentioned automated scheduled backups are something all frequent business texters should seriously consider.
 
If you created a backup on the cloud, the .xml file containing the backed-up data will be saved there e.g. on Google Drive:
 

 
 
If you created a "local" backup, click the “View Details” link on the home page of the app to access the backup:
 

 
 
Under the “Local” tab of the "View Backups" page of the app you will see local backups listed, and they will be in .xml file format:
 

 
The contents of the .xml file can be viewed on your phone, or on a computer, as described below.
 
Viewing .xml file contents on the phone
To view the contents of the .xml backup file on your phone, click on the backup (see screenshot above) to open the .xml file, and you should see a listing of text message conversations stored in the backup. The below screenshot indicates how the listing of text messages will look:

The number on the right side indicates the number of messages in the text message conversation, and clicking the three vertical dots on the right side of a text message conversation opens up the following menu for the conversation:
 

 
Select the “Print Conversation” item on the bottom of list to print the conversation to pdf. The pdf will be saved to your phone, and then you can email it, or download it to your computer by plugging your phone into the computer.
 
 
The below screenshot shows part of a pdf file produced using the “Print Conversation” feature of the app:

 
However, as of December 2020, printing to pdf using the app on a phone does not print photographs contained in the text message conversation. To print photographs, view the .xml file on your computer, see below.
 
 
Viewing .xml file contents on your computer
 
To copy .xml file backups from your phone to your computer plug in the phone and look for a path similar to the following: “This PC\Galaxy S6\Phone\SMSBackupRestore”. That example path is for a Samsung Galaxy S6 phone, so if you have a diffrerent phone that part of the path will be different. 
 
.xml files can be viewed using any internet browser, but the contents of the .xml files produced by SMS Backup & Restore are encoded and not user friendly to view in a browser:
 

 
As indicated by the red arrow in the screenshot above, the Synctech website provides a viewing tool that allows useful review of the data in the backup file. Just open a web browser on your computer to https://synctech.com.au/view-backup/ and drag and drop the .xml file from your computer into the window on the Sycntech website:
 

Synctech’s privacy policy states that when you view a .xml file using the viewing tool on their website all processing happens within your browser and that the data is not saved to their server, which means that they do not have access to your data:
 
The backup viewer (at https://synctech.com.au/view-backup/) allows viewing of the xml backup in a more readable format. Even though it is a page on our website, it performs all the processing of the xml backup file in the browser itself. The contents of the backups (and your personal information in them) are never uploaded to any server.
 
But keep in mind that to get to their website your data does traverse the internet.
 
After dragging and dropping a .xml file into the Synctech website you will be able to select text message conversations from the list on the left, and then print to pdf using the link at the top of the message list on the right to print to pdf. The resulting pdf will appear similar to the message listing in the screenshot shown earlier, but will include photographs included in the text message conversation.
 
As also shown in the screenshot below, there is also an option to download all media (i.e. photographs etc.) from the text message conversation to a zip file which you can then open on your computer.
 

 
Note that when photographs are sent by text messages the photograph “Date taken” metadata is typically not retained, but the “Date modified” data for the photograph will tell you the date that it was saved on the recipient's phone.
 

Conclusion

Phones get lost, dropped in lakes, toilets, and who knows where else, so if you do business by text setting up regularly scheduled backups is just common sense. If litigation arises, those texts could be of vital importance. There are many options available for exporting good quality pdf files for disclosure in litigation, and Synctech’s SMS Backup & Restore does a good job on Android phones. For iPhones, computer software as listed above can be considered.
 
Finally, remember that backing up chat messages (e.g. Whatsapp) is a separate thing from SMS text messages discussed in this article, and chat messages must be considered in addition to the above described options for text messages.