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Long Beach Police Have Been Using An App That Deletes Text Messages

A Long Beach Police squad car is seen in this 2014 file photo. (Photo by Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC)
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The Long Beach Police Department is taking heat over its use of an app that deletes text messages.

The app -- previously known as TigerText and now called TigerConnect -- provides a secure channel for sending texts before deleting them, Snapchat-style. State law requires city agencies to preserve all records for at least two years.

On Tuesday, Al Jazeera broke the story that the department has been using the app.

The city of Long Beach released a statement Tuesday saying it's suspending use of the app "pending further review of whether the use is consistent with the City's record retention policy."

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The police department started using the app on half of its 291 department-issued cell phones when it switched to iPhones back in 2014, the statement said, adding that the department chose TigerConnect because it offered "transitory, immediate, and secure communications regarding operational and personnel matters."

Critics say Long Beach didn't need a special app.

"If you really want to send secure text messages, you can use iMessage," said ACLU attorney Mohammad Tajsar. "And iMessage texts are end-to-end encrypted. So they're as secure as you can possibly get."

Tajsar argued that "the only reason why you'd want to use the application is if you were trying to hide records."

Hundreds of criminal and civil cases in Long Beach could be affected, he said.

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Nikhil Ramnaney, an attorney at the Los Angeles County Public Defender's office, said he's going to look into that possibility.

Since Long Beach homicide detectives were among those who had TigerConnect on their phones, "I plan to file discovery requests on [homicide] cases for TigerTexts or ask the court to preserve any messaging between officers about those messages," he said.

Ramnaney said the app generates an email notifying you when someone has sent you a text.

Besides putting the app on homicide detectives' phones, the department installed TigerConnect on the phones of other "specialized details," such as internal affairs, and the phones of command staff, according to the city's statement.

It added that "Police Department employees have been trained to and do document any exculpatory/discoverable evidence in a police report or other formal departmental communication."

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The controversy helps explain why TigerConnect doesn't try to sell its product to the police.

TigerConnect is a secure health care messaging app. In the App Store it falls under the medical category.

The app integrates with hospital tech, like scheduling and lab systems. Deleting texts is important because health care employees discuss confidential patient health information.

Employees can create group messages, and they can text people based on their titles rather than their names (because sometimes at 3 a.m. you need to get hold of the on-call cardiologist and can't remember his name).

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