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Under Fire, Long Beach Police Suspend Use of Self-Deleting Message App

by Betty Nelander

The TigerText app that permanently erases messages after a set time period has triggered controversy in Long Beach, California. There, the police department suspended use of it after its use was exposed by the media. What may have been sent using the self-erasing texting app remains unknown. Unlike many smartphone texts, these are not recoverable.

The confidential messaging system could be a way to conceal evidence, although the city has denied doing so or other “potentially incriminating information being disclosed to courts,” an Al Jazeera investigation revealed.

“Serving and former officers told Al Jazeera that police-issued phones had the software installed on them and that it was used to share details of police operations as well as sensitive personnel issues,” reported September 19, 2018. “Two officers said supervisors told them to use the app to have conversations that would not be discoverable.”

“Use of the application began when the Police Department transitioned to iPhones, which did not have a built-in secure communication feature sufficient for the needs of the Department,” according to a statement by the city on September 18, 2018. “The primary purpose of the Tiger Connect [TigerText] application was to allow for a continued means of transitory, immediate, and secure communications regarding operational and personnel matters. Police Department employees have been trained to and do document any exculpatory/discoverable evidence in a police report or other formal departmental communication.”

The app has been in use in Long Beach since 2014, when it was installed on 145 of the 291 cellphones issued by the department. Its use may have broken California law requiring local governments to preserve records for two years, Mohammad Tajsar, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times.

He recommended the Police Department and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office investigate.

“It might potentially throw into doubt the validity of a whole host of cases,” Tajsar said. “You have the prospect of destroyed evidence in a whole bunch of cases.… It’s very important, in fact critical, that the city conduct a thorough investigation into the use of TigerText — how its officers communicated using it, what they communicated and the impact of those communications on prior cases.”

The Beachcomber, which investigated the use of TigerText in Long Beach over several months, said a confidential source told the paper “that the app was in use by detectives assigned to narcotics, gangs, intelligence and homicide units, including detectives who investigate officer involved shootings.”

It’s unknown whether other police agencies use TigerText, which changed its corporate name to TigerConnect in March 2018. TigerConnect is marketed to healthcare providers as a HIPPA-compliant messaging app. 



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