AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon urged to safeguard SMS, MMS related to riots

capitol building
Operators were urged to preserve messages sent by or to their customers during last week's riots as evidence. (Getty Images)

After last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner, (D-Virginia), asked Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T to immediately work to preserve all SMS and MMS communications created by or sent to their subscribers during the days leading up to, during and the day after the event.

Warner on Friday sent letters to Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh encouraging them to take steps to ensure they’re able to respond should law enforcement come knocking for those records. 

“Along with the rest of the world, I know you watched with horror as an angry mob incited by the President and prominent Republican officials and media personalities ransacked the Capitol and threatened the safety and lives of those within it,” Warner told the executives in separate letters.

While rioters attacked and roamed the halls of the building, they took pictures and posted them to their social media accounts or shared them via text or mobile messaging platforms. “Messaging data to and from your subscribers that may have participated in, or assisted, those engaged in this insurrection – and associated subscriber information – are critical evidence in helping to bring these rioters to justice,” Warner wrote.

Verizon declined to comment on the senator’s letter. Spokespersons for AT&T and T-Mobile confirmed receipt of the letter. “We have received and are reviewing the senator’s letter,” an AT&T spokesperson told Fierce.

“As always, we will cooperate fully with requests from law enforcement,” a T-Mobile spokesperson said.

Warner also sent letters to AppleFacebookGabGoogleParlerSignalTelegram and Twitter.

Gab, which has been the subject of boycotts by “virtually every company in Silicon Valley,” responded to Warner that it doesn’t comment on document preservation requests or specific communications with law enforcement; its policy is to preserve the confidentiality of law enforcement investigations and to encourage law enforcement to feel comfortable contacting Gab in emergency situations or to request the preservation of documents.  

RELATED: Telecom execs, industry leaders react to chaos at the U.S. Capitol

Meanwhile, executives from the nation’s three biggest carriers reacted to last week’s attacks in various ways. Vestberg held a special Up To Speed virtual meeting one day afterward to connect with Verizon employees, and said “we condemn any type of senseless violence and rioting” that was done January 6.

“I think it’s important for us to say that,” Vestberg said, adding that the country and many places on Earth are grappling with large challenges and issues like Covid, the economic downturn and the U.S. riots. Diversity is important, he said, but they also want to be clear they don’t condone what happened and he asked his “V-teamers” to stay safe and healthy.

At AT&T, CEO John Stankey also denounced the violence. “We applaud all those who stood strong to thwart an appalling insurrection bent on blocking the peaceful transfer of power following a free and fair election,” he said in a statement. “Freedom, democracy and rule of law are America’s bedrock and must never be usurped. We congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on their Electoral College victory. There is much to be done to move the country forward.”

T-Mobile’s Sievert appeared on CNBC on January 7 and said “we were shocked” by the events as they unfolded. Their instincts were to make sure employees were safe and that the network was operating reliably for the public to stay connected. 

But his first words to T-Mobile employees were to make it clear that when something like this happens, “we have to denounce it,” he said. “The violent destruction of our sacred, democratic processes, that has to be denounced.”

RELATED: T-Mobile CEO: ‘We smashed it’ in 2020

Separately, former T-Mobile CEO John Legere took to Twitter to suggest he may run for office. While he’s got a lot of fans, it’s worth noting that the long-fought merger with Sprint was approved during the Trump administration, and Legere was famously called out for staying at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., while lobbying for the merger.   

Suspending political contributions

This week, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon said they were suspending political contributions to those lawmakers who voted against the certification of the Electoral College vote.

"We will be suspending contributions to any member of Congress who voted in favor of objecting to the election results,” said Verizon spokesman Rich Young in a statement.

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile each donated to the campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as recently as last year, CNBC reported. AT&T and T-Mobile also contributed to the campaign of Sen. Josh Hawley (R- Missouri) as recently as last year, the report said.