Case Study

Radical Appraisal Practices and the Mobile Forensic Imaginary

November 2015

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Introduction: Scenes of Destruction

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Scene 1: Steubenville

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In March 2013, police in Steubenville, Ohio confiscated seventeen mobile phones from a group of high-school students. With their mobile phones students had created, transmitted, and captured thousands of mobile records—text messages, tweets, videos, and photograph messages related to a sexual assault of a high-school girl. Despite the trove of evidence on the phones, witnesses in the trial testified to deleting many traces that captured the six-hour assault before they were turned over to the police. Forensic experts in the trial could not recover most of the deleted photographs and video from the teenagers’ mobile phones that documented the young woman’s assault and its aftermath.1

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0  Scene 2: The Snappening

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In October 2014, hackers released approximately 90,000 photographs and 9,000 videos known as “snaps” from Snapchat by hacking a third-party application, The Snapsave app allows Snapchat users to save so-called self-destructing snaps covertly. Earlier in the year the Federal Trade Commission had filed a complaint against Snapchat regarding claims that snaps completely “disappear” after they expire. Snapchat settled charges with the FTC that it had deceived consumers about how the mobile application actually works, including that the company’s claims of “deletion” and the “ephemeral” nature of snaps were misleading to consumers.2

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Scene 3: Hillary’s Blackberry

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In spring of 2015, The New York Times reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton used a personal email account to conduct official affairs during her tenure as secretary of state.3 In a press conference on March 10, 2015, Clinton said, “First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.” Clinton then revealed that she had deleted approximately 30,000 private emails and said there was “no reason to save them.”

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 I want to start this account by stating something quite obvious. In each of these scenes above we find that records are being created, collected, and destroyed. Some of these records are being destroyed in this present moment, some were thought to have been destroyed and have been given new lives, and still others no longer exist. Some of these traces are ghosts of records that have been and exist as trace data on platforms, supporting databases, and servers. These records and their traces are mobile because they can move easily through networked infrastructures by way of their structure and form. They also represent vehicles of mobility in the many ways users can destroy them with system settings and data management.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 In the following essay I want to suggest that the destruction, the promise of destruction, and the impending destruction of mobile records created with digital devices, such as the mobile phones described in the scenes above, represent a special kind of upheaval to archival theories of recordkeeping technologies and appraisal. This upheaval points to a new set of personal, digital archival practices that are radical, in that they open new possibilities for theories of, and questions about, evidence, value, selection, and control over digital archives of the future. Destruction practices are not new to archivists; however, the special kind of upheaval I have set out in these scenes is meant to draw our attention to a new, techno-social, documentary “configuration” that brings infrastructure, materialities of information, and a cultural imaginary together.4

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 This configuration also represents a bouleversement tied to the problems (and opportunities) that record creators face when they create and destroy traces, and perhaps even outsource the work of keeping and destroying records to third-party platforms and the content intermediaries that govern them.5 In each of these scenes of recordkeeping with mobile technologies, something uniquely archival is being staged—the value of keeping these traces is being tested and continues to unfold. The ways in which such records are destroyed, lost, and resurface circulate in our collective cultural imaginary in uneven and sometimes deterministic ways. While it may be hard to imagine an archive of records created with mobile phones, more and more we find that records of all kinds and in every area of society are being created and transmitted with mobile devices in networked infrastructures, and then are stored and distributed across a variety of media and emerging platforms. Technical and social problems with the processes of storage and destruction of recorded information have always been archival concerns, and approaches to destroying records (of any type) are perennial. So as the destruction of mobile records becomes more common, it seems like a good time to ask how and why these practices come about, and further, how they will influence archives of the future.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Each of the scenes sets a stage for grappling with intriguing questions about how mobile records exist in this present moment, and how they will be preserved or destroyed by creators, content intermediaries that govern platforms, and archivists. These vignettes of destruction or promised-destruction, and more like them each day, figure into our cultural imagination of what communicating looks and feels like at the late beginning of the twenty-first century. And because archives are in the business of engaging with afterlives, I should like to examine what it means to destroy mobile records, technically and socially, by examining the stakes of creating such spectral traces, and to ask, what happens to the traces of records that have been created and then destroyed? How are these afterlives configured, if at all, into archival infrastructures? How are these traces of traces understood? And how might the destruction of mobile records created in platforms queer existing understandings of archival appraisal?

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The mobile forensic imaginary that I describe in this essay comes out of new cultures of recordkeeping supported by mobile device infrastructures and social media platforms.6 It influences ways of thinking about born digital and born networked records, and particularly how we envisage keeping or getting rid of them. This imaginary represents a doorway, a kind of framing device, to understanding the ways we have destroyed records of all types and to the ways that we will continue to destroy records in the future; this includes what we imagine when we think we have deleted, obfuscated, or destroyed records that were created and transmitted with and within networked communication technologies. Here, the “we” I refer to throughout this piece includes professional archivists, records managers, and (soon) data scientists who are expert stewards of memory and the cultural record, but also all kinds of record keepers—people who communicate and manage information with record transactions in networked information systems as part of contemporary life. This way of imagining how we destroy mobile records also has high stakes for archival thinkers, not just for information scholars or cultural theorists, lawyers, and policymakers, but for those scholars concerned with human information behavior, the ethics and accountability of information, and the design of tools. Destruction practices impact the ways we communicate over time, the information systems we build and use, and how we transmit, collect, and preserve records in data-intensive institutions and cultures.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The heuristic of the “mobile forensic imaginary” that I develop in this essay is a tool with which to comprehend new ways of recordkeeping with mobile information and communication technologies (ICTs), including what I am identifying as radical appraisal practices. This tool can help to plan future work in digital preservation and data management in both personal and professional archives. Appraisal is the process by which records are selected for archival accessioning; determining what will be destroyed is an intimate part of this valuation. Though a variety of archival appraisal theories have been used in practice for much of the twentieth century, few modern appraisal theories have been applied to collections of born networked records.7 Much of what has been written about archival appraisal in the last century focuses upon potential values (evidential, informational, or intrinsic) found in record collections once professional archivists and collecting institutions have accessioned them. However, the rise of networked technologies gives individual creators the ability to influence digital archives in new ways, well before these records are collected and accessioned by archival programs. Radical appraisal practice is but one in a host of personal archival activities that have yet to be described and interpreted in contemporary theories of the archive.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 I am suggesting that radical appraisal is tied to the increasingly pervasive use of mobile phones and wireless networks that support coverage and transmission, including voice telephony, as well as data transmission and records creation. As we transition to next generation mobile networks (4G/IMT-Advanced, LTE, 5G) that privilege transmitting data over supporting voice telephony, we see an increase in more powerful mobile phones, or pocket computers, that connect to the internet and can be used to create and access a variety of data ranging from GPS data, to mobile telephony metadata, to social media platforms that support mobile media, such as tweets, text messages, mobile payment receipts, Instagram photographs, Facebook updates, and Snapchat snaps.8 The future of internet access is in these advanced mobile networks, in part due to the present pace of ubiquitous computing with mobile devices and copper-to-fiber transition networks.9 In the near future, most records will be created and transmitted with mobile, internet-connected devices and stored in networked infrastructures such as data centers and network base stations, as well as in mobile devices with flash memory and solid-state disks that we carry. We will continue to have them with us, near our bodies, often in our pockets, wallets, purses, and backpacks.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Next generation mobile network infrastructure, including more powerful mobile devices that support ubiquitous computing, gives rise to this imaginary that mutually influences and is influenced by contemporary networked recordkeeping practices. This imagination and the practices of selection and destruction of mobile records are subject to device settings, terms of service across platforms and service providers, hardware and software constraints, as well as law enforcement and surveillance programs, among other influences. Our personal communication devices continue to be enrolled in regimes of bureaucratic and administrative control, and here I am suggesting a case of regime extension where the future of digital archives will be shaped by this mobile forensic imagination and the record creator’s impulse to destroy records in networks. Instead of clearly being a study of emerging record formats created with mobile phones, messaging apps, and social media platforms, this essay offers an archival account of mobile communication infrastructure and how it influences and shapes current appraisal practices and popular ideas about digital evidence—that is, what lasts even after a trace has been destroyed by a record creator? How might new techniques of forgetting found in emerging platforms and networked infrastructures reactivate, oppose, or extend traditional theories of appraisal?

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 I see this essay as a test-tube experiment. I am throwing in elements of infrastructure and recordkeeping practices that we are seeing with mobile devices and social media platforms, and shaking it up. Archival studies are concerned with records and recordkeeping cultures, while studies of infrastructure examine the practices, techniques, and traditions built up around networked technologies. This study does both. The tack I follow in my test-tube experiment, then, is to look for elements of infrastructure that impact the circulation and destruction of mobile records in particular. In this spirit, I follow records through infrastructures of enactment and transmission, examining the limits and possibilities of keeping and destroying mobile records, including their traces of transaction.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 The notion of limits that I suggest is not easily yoked together with current theories of electronic memory in archival studies or possibly even in digital-preservation research in this moment.10 As I have argued elsewhere, the theory and current discourse around electronic records in archival scholarship rarely confronts networked infrastructures, and only takes us so far when applied to born networked records.11 Moreover, many computer scientists and technologists argue that all text information can be stored and preserved securely (a dubious assumption at best). Very little work in digital preservation attends to what should not be preserved and subjected to current information-retrieval and unlimited backup regimes.12 Instead of engaging with the power of total recall, or the possibilities of completely “saving everything,” along with the promise of information retrieval,13 I want to take some space to reflect on what I call “the impulse to destroy” records and consider what that might mean for the future of forgetting and memory as they are influenced by mobile ICTs. Where does this impulse come from? How is it connected to appraisal? How might it radically transform our current approaches to appraisal and preservation? I am less concerned with how mobile records can be preserved (though that is certainly important and many are working to address this problem), than I am with showing how some tools of destruction and platform functionalities that support radical appraisal speak to debates of collecting, storage, digital preservation, and personal archives of the future. I am interested in identifying the impulse behind radical appraisal practices as part of this forensic imagination, and then drawing upon it as a guide for scholarly and practical questions about memory and forgetting in the digital age. I am focused on the motivations behind forgetting techniques—in part because I want to show what mobile records do as deleted, obfuscated, and destroyed things in the present—and how these ghosts (as traces of appraisal practices) influence expectations of what should and should not be remembered in the future as part of personal and public archives created with mobile ICTs. Indeed, archives are anchored in forgetting as much as they are in remembering.14

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19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Theoretical Background

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 I am primarily drawing upon two lines of inquiry within information science to support my investigation and characterization of this mobile forensic imaginary and radical appraisal. The first draws from forgetting and data-retention discourse of the late 1990s and early 2000s that have been brought to the fore again with new legislation efforts in Europe and the United States with regard to the circulation of content on the web and the mass surveillance of telecommunications discovered after the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks.15 These discussions have primarily been concerned with published web content, search-engine indexing, and the right to privacy online. We are seeing new scholarship and legislation primarily with cases indicting violent, invasive, or offensive online traces, the storage of personal location data, and, most recently, with legislation against revenge porn and the telephony metadata collection en masse for surveillance. However, many of these debates have yet to expand to mobile media and wireless infrastructure beyond teens sexting with mobile phones and Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Many information scholars, such as Phil Agre, Jean-François Blanchette, and danah boyd, have argued for the social benefits of forgetting in the digital age; these range from the civic to cultural to liberal rights of individuals.16 Cultures have always had active and structured ways of forgetting with information technologies. Sociologists and historians of technology have documented the collection of data about citizens and the public consciousness toward the power of governing with social databanks since the early 1960s.17 Increasingly, though, our social and professional activities are represented through documentary traces that circulate through networked ICTs, and as Ron E. Day has argued, this “documentary mediation becomes more and more the infrastructure through which we understand our lives and those of others.”18 While some scholars, like Sherry Turkle, argue that this kind of digital mediation changes “life” itself,19 others argue that our methods for analyzing social life should shift by bringing the “liveliness of data” and the materiality of information infrastructures to the fore.20 Social media platforms, search engines, and the databases that support them influence the possibilities to forget through the power to publish or destroy traces online. Increasingly, information and communication scholars characterize the personal data and documentation that is created by, and evidence of, everyday life through liberal democratic rights and the lens of privacy; more recently, these include the right to use obfuscation and encryption tools to resist state surveillance and commercial big data techniques.21

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 The second strand of research I apply is methodology from archival studies, drawing upon various archival scholars’ engagements with transactions of evidence and materiality.22 For archival scholars, all recorded information can be represented by transactions with form, content, and fixity in some kind of media. These are known as records, which imbue various strains of informational and evidential qualities including long-term and short-term values. In different eras, and in different national contexts, archivists have confronted different forms of recorded information and questioned the nature of archival evidence. As a result, scholarship on new digital records and recordkeeping practices has been largely concerned with the preservation of record structure, object formats, and governance.23 Until quite recently, archival scholars have not engaged with the infrastructure, platform functionalities, device structure, or wireless transmission of digital records—specifically, the macro-environment outside of individual recordkeeping contexts that extends beyond a static storage site.24 For the most part, twentieth-century archival scholarship on the nature of evidence in modern recordkeeping focuses on the contextuality of a record’s creation and use in social practice (known as functional analysis). Moreover, most work on digital evidence has focused on traditional records that were once analog and are now born digital in data-intensive institutions (e.g., university collections, government documents, scientific data, and business communications). But here I am looking at the broader contexts of record creation and use, particularly the networked infrastructures that support mobile-record creation and transmission—digital incunabula that represent new record formats as well as the infrastructures that support their circulation. Infrastructural elements of mobile ICTs, including how they come to be material things that take up space and energy in the world, are essential to the discursive formation of mobile records as distributed transactions of evidence.25 I am especially indebted to Kimberly D. Anderson’s framework of evidence for records of culture that resist capture as I lay out some of the following ideas.26

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 The theoretical frameworks I draw upon to make these claims allow me to look at how infrastructure influences the creation and nature of evidence in mobile records. Both lines of scholarly inquiry are attendant to discourse, and as I have said, this mobile forensic imagination is a discursive formation.27 The rise of ubiquitous computing with mobile devices has led to a personal telematics: a set of practices, traditions, and ways of being in the world, communicating, and creating cultural records.28 These devices, and the apps, cameras, and GPS utilities they support, are becoming technologies of the self, and giving rise to new kinds of traces and evidence. For this idea to be possible the conditions that make it so must have come up and developed over time. Thus, the theoretical foundation for this investigation is particularly attuned to infrastructure as an archival context for studying records.

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25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Mobile Records

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Let me begin by defining records created with mobile communication devices. Mobile records are both born digital and born networked, because they are transmitted across wireless networks. They are digital because they are created with mobile phones equipped with microprocessors; they are born networked because when they are created and transmitted, they become subject to a host of network architecture, standards, machines, fiber, and wires that support wireless data transmission.29 Mobile records are profoundly disruptive to archival knowledge in that they represent a kind of digital incunabula that we have yet to account for in our theories and practice. As early as 1992, archival scholars such as Terry Cook, Anne Gilliland, and Margaret Hedstrom foresaw the power and disruption that telecommunications infrastructure would bring to business communication and records in society.30 And yet, as with many new digital formats and network infrastructure, archivists continue to play catch up in our approaches to new forms of recorded communication and transmission. As others and I have argued, it is the telecommunications infrastructure that sustains mobile recordkeeping, and this infrastructure’s ubiquity that allows mobile records to fall outside of many expectations of digital records management and preservation efforts.31

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Take, for instance, the text message, also known as SMS (Short Message Service). The text message is one of the most circulated mobile records created with mobile devices; approximately six billion text messages are sent and received every day in the United States.32 Curiously, however, text messages are not as curated or managed as are other digital formats that appear in personal digital collections or business-communications records (like email, receipts, MP3s, and digital photographs). There is a wide body of mobile-communication research that looks at the impact that texting has on communicating, growing up, coordinating groups, even language and behavior, but there is little work on the management of text messages as records in personal, institutional, or public archives. Few empirical studies of personal information management or personal digital archives created with mobile devices mention mobile media such as text messages; instead, they focus upon digital photographs or mobile video, social coordination applications, and financial transactions.33 Coincidentally, however, there is a rapidly growing field that focuses upon recovering deleted SMS corpora in the field of digital forensic science, particularly in small-scale digital device forensics.34 While other mobile media like MP3s, photographs, or video are transferred to and from other storage media (a personal computer, an external secure digital card, or cloud backup storage, for example), text messages are primarily relegated to the limited local storage on the mobile phone.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Mobile device settings prompt users to delete messages as limits are reached; or, with smartphone operating systems, automatic deletion in batches exists as a default setting. Investment in text messages as records that are subject to appraisal practices like selection, and destruction, happens quite surprisingly after they are deleted. Despite these advances in forensic science, there are very few institutional efforts or policies outside legal contexts for e-discovery that directly address the collection and access of text messages over time.35 Text messages serve as an early (and dying) exemplar of mobile records that are not only indicative of our networked world (as earlier forms of written communication such as telegrams or handwritten correspondence), but also represent a genre of emerging digital records of everyday life and new information practice that is often described as the “constant touch” or connection to the network by virtue of their high-speed transmission.36

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 The infrastructure and platform functionality that support mobile records, including teleservices such as SMS, messaging apps, and platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter, are not only important to the processes of transmission, but structure the production of new records at the turn of the century that have implications for labor, value, and evidence. We are beginning to see mobile records as stable information objects or categories of digital evidence in laws and governance, even entertainment.37 Mobile-media platforms like SMS gateways to the internet, or social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr have SMS client applications that allow users to send text messages to update their profiles. In these ways and many more, mobile records like text messages, tweets, and Facebook updates are enrolled in a variety of cultural, state, personal, professional, and political communication practices, operating in the background of our cultural imaginary.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 A recent example that illustrates some of these ideas about the status of destroyed mobile records is the ongoing sports controversy known as Deflategate. New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady was suspended recently by the National Football League (NFL) for his alleged participation in tampering with footballs used in the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts on January 18, 2015.38 In early May of 2015, the NFL released the Wells Report, a several-month investigation led by attorney Theodore Wells, which concluded it was “more probable than not” that Brady was aware that locker-room and equipment assistants Jim McNally and John Jastremski deliberately deflated Patriot game balls.39 Brady had met with Wells’s investigation team and the NFL in March, but his mobile phone was destroyed beforehand and had been replaced. But Brady did not disclose the destruction of the phone or the loss of text messages to the investigators until three months later in June.40 As a result of the Wells Report findings, the NFL suspended Brady for four games in the 2015 season for his involvement in deflating balls during the AFC Championship game and, in part, for failing to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation because he refused to produce electronic evidence, including his mobile phone, text messages, and emails.41 In the appeal of the suspension, Brady and his legal team submitted cell phone records but could not produce any text messages to support his exculpation. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the decision despite Brady’s appeal. There is now an ongoing federal court case between the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) regarding Brady’s suspension.42 In a statement published on his Facebook page in response, Brady wrote,

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong. To try and reconcile the record and fully cooperate with the investigation after I was disciplined in May, we turned over detailed pages of cell phone records and all of the emails that Mr. Wells requested. We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone.43

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 The NFL, the Wells investigation attorneys, Brady, Brady’s agent, and the NFLPA union all agree that Brady himself sent text messages, perhaps hundreds, to the Patriots’ equipment assistants. They have the metadata from cell phone records and billing statements to prove this. The irony is that there are no text messages, as Brady puts it aptly, to “reconcile the record.”44 The absence of text messages due to the destruction of Brady’s mobile device, coupled with the trace data that prove texts once existed, points to the peculiar afterlife of destroyed messages because it can be marshaled to support different ideas about Brady’s involvement in Deflategate—the destroyed text messages can implicate or exculpate him from the allegations.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 My point here is that we not only create these mobile records at staggering rates, but that we are witnessing a moment where a host of mobile record practices involve destroying them, and even destroyed records circulate as evidence despite having been wiped out and obliterated. The motivations for destruction vary in means and context, as do the interpretations of destruction as evidence of human transactions. We can see the specter of evidence that destroyed records become in high-profile cases, as with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s personal emails or Tom Brady’s text messages. Given the many spheres in which the destruction of mobile records occurs (and the reliance upon evidence of destruction that prove their previous existence), it is strange that little work outside of commercial data analytics, mass surveillance programs, and investigative forensic science is concerned with the preservation and destruction of records created in platforms with mobile devices. As this tide of mobile media devices, social media platforms, and digital formats rises, it is instructive, if not necessary, for archival scholars to examine how these digital traces are captured, but also how they are lost, half-hidden, and obscured by their creators. It is incumbent upon us to locate the places and occasions for these traces to reveal themselves, including the conditions of their development and un-doing (both social and technological).

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35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Platforms and Radical Appraisal

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Many social media researchers and archival scholars have identified new kinds of digital collections that individuals create with social media platforms and mobile media. These range from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram to media-based collection platforms like Flickr, YouTube, GoodReads, and Pinterest. These platforms herald a new era of personal digital archives and personal information-management research for information and communications scholars.45 As personal digital archives, these collaborative collections exist as new forms because of their content but also because of their intended and future audiences—connections with other users (friends, followers, public users) are an integral part of the networked interactivity in each of these platforms. Social media platforms present individual creators with a suite of selection, access, description, and appraisal options. The affordances and functionalities of these platforms can range from privacy settings that limit who and how collections can be accessed, to storage solutions that offer cloud backup, to automatic description and retrieval, among others. Some of these practices are rapidly shifting because people are calling upon collections created in social media platforms to speak as digital archives in public and private ways, as cultural records of social events, community activism, memorialization, and bereavement. An example is Bergis Jules’ recent call to “document the now” with regard to the #Ferguson tweets after the killing of Michael Brown.46 Jules identifies the need to document tweets of the protests afterwards, and argues that the ephemeral nature of traces created with Twitter reminds us that it remains to be seen who should archive these social media records and where they will be stored for future access.47

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 In addition to calling on platforms to speak as archives of our cultural memory now, we are also witnessing trends with social media platforms that play off collections as personal archives by editing them strategically and for different motivations—privacy, heartbreak, tidying up, and self-censorship are a few that have been studied and described. Social media researchers have identified a variety of ways that users strategically delete posts, tweets, updates, and comments, as well as the process of deactivating and deleting accounts.48 Wall cleaning, digital suicide, limiting interaction, and even departing platforms are ways of engaging with the power over creating (and destroying) digital personal archives. We can also see the rise of self-destructing mobile media applications like Snapchat, WickR, or Confide as part of a turn toward the need and impulse to destroy mobile records. For example, the developers of Confide (often characterized as “Snapchat for business professionals”) claim that their app directly confronts digital traces that last forever and reside as copies in networked infrastructure because of backup storage: “We think the concept of the digital permanent record is crazy. Why should all of our online communication be around forever, with copies of things being spewed and stored in people’s inboxes and the Cloud?”49 Confide and other self-destructing messaging apps hail the mobile forensic imaginary from both ends by tying the ideas of a permanent digital record to the hope of permanently disappearing these networked traces through destruction: first, by claiming that a permanent digital record is possible, and second, by leveraging those multiple possibilities of persistence to build and market a tool that answers the digital-record creator’s need to destroy messages permanently.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 These strategies and tools that purportedly ensure destruction are about living and moving through a networked world, but they also represent a shift in contemporary archival practice for individual record creators. As appraisal practices, these destruction strategies, and the tools that support them, are interesting to me because of the nature of my work as an archival scholar and educator, and as a technologist interested in the impact of social and mobile media; but they also captivate me as an individual record creator and personal archivist who uses platforms.50

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 If social media platforms (indeed many digital ICTs) turn users into individual, citizen archivists, what does it mean to appraise collections in real time, earlier in the records lifecycle, as they are being created and accessed as active transactions? There exist technical affordances to store and backup all of the personal records that we create with mobile devices and on social media platforms. That is, there are metadata, copies, and other traces that document the existence and destruction of traces. Given this reality, it strikes me as worth asking: is it a radical practice to delete things in an age where unlimited storage is cheap, when storage backup is automatic on content intermediaries’ and telecommunication providers’ servers, and the future of information management lies within existing distributed, long-term storage solutions?

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Scholars concerned with digital stewardship issues, such as Amelia Abreu, Jed Brubaker, and Sarah Kim, have pointed out that the long-term expectations of social media platforms as archival infrastructure are quite limited in that they do not ensure longevity to individual users through terms of service and in the hosting products they provide.51 I agree that most social media platform functionalities are limited in their long-term archival functions (especially with regard to access by creators and their families), but I want to point out that many platforms support some interesting appraisal functionalities like deletion, purging, weeding, selectively editing—all appraisal practices in the now that perhaps we have passed over, or undervalued, as legitimately empowering archival practices for users in an age of unlimited storage and automatic backup.52

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Deleting as much as possible, embracing purging, and obliterating trace bodies of metadata represent a kind of incommensurable rupture within contemporary information systems that is radically different in an era of big data, precision surveillance, and promised total archives. The power of digital archives is not only in the accumulation of records, but in the platform functionalities, software architecture, and metadata created as part of the generation of evidential transactions in information systems that allow users to both create and destroy. Conscientiously deleting creates a kind of overturning, convulsion, and turmoil in existing mass-collecting contexts supported by mobile ICTs. Resisting the “liveliness of data” through meaningful and motivated destruction is both a kind of documentation strategy of resistance and evidence of how social life is changing with the rise of near-constant mediating infrastructures. By aiming a search light on some of these radical appraisal practices with mobile records (such as deletion, obliteration, selection, and weeding), we might find tools of resistance by harnessing and purposefully creating what Abreu has called, “future points of canonical extinction”53 within the institutional, government, and corporate databases that increasingly make, govern, and structure our worlds.54 Locating these appraisal practices provides us with a way to reactivate what forgetting can mean to our theories of the archive, including the productive nature of silences, ghosts, and gaps.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 In her book on memory and software, Wendy HK Chun argues, “The archive is a constantly rewritten storage system, driven by the ephemeral.”55 Radical appraisal with platforms and mobile records plays with ideas of ephemeral evidence in some productive ways. Deleted mobile records and their trace data bears significant ramifications for archival thinkers who have tried to challenge traditional formulations of memory and collection in the archive because of the metadata that these transactions leave behind as part of their creation and transmission. What the user sees and experiences when she deletes posts, white walls, edits down, or tidies up has different degrees of destruction within the information systems that support these platforms. Data shadows remain: metadata of the original post or location; files that can be recovered on hard discs that have yet to be overwritten; APIs that support pull requests create more copies and traces that may reside on many servers, indexed by search engines or republished elsewhere. Such data shadows like Brady’s cell-phone bills that show he sent texts, API records of deleted tweets with user IDs from Ferguson protests, logs of deleted Facebook wall posts from the Steubenville High School rape case—all represent ephemeral evidence left over from the radical appraisal practices of mobile-record creators.56 These shadows, however ephemeral and understood as gaps, are still transactions of human communication; they are evidence of impulses to destroy and not to remember, limiting access or trying to forget.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Born networked records that mobile communication infrastructures have made possible open new avenues for recorded transactions, so the possibilities for collecting and destroying traces continue to grow. As part of network transmission, mobile records acquire wrappers of metadata for routing, handoff, and transmission receipts. How might these trace data influence our ability to think or re-think forgetting in the digital age? At this point the materiality of digital records and the traces they leave behind as part of communications infrastructure are overlooked and abstracted in our theories of the digital archive, reflected in one side of the mobile forensic imaginary that sometimes characterizes wireless data transmission as “magic in the air.”57 Discussions about the ephemeral nature of social media and mobile communications trend toward and even celebrate the ephemerality, without examining the metadata or the traces of those transactions. How should archival practitioners and scholars confront, collect, and describe the data shadows or trace data left by destroyed records? Moreover, most archival scholars ignore considering how destroyed traces or trace data may represent new evidence beyond traditional categories of recordkeeping. Trace data from destroyed records provide archival scholars an entry point to explore how destroying records might transcend ideas of selection, appraisal, and access—new kinds of absences with afterlives that have resisted archival theory and practice.58

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Archivists have always confronted loss and decay as records have moved across space and time, but transmission and the ubiquity of mobile communication infrastructure represents a shift in the transactions of evidence because of the trace data (or metadata) that is created as part of records creation, transmission, and storage in networked infrastructures. The problem with wireless handsets and their mobile records for creators and stewards of digital archives is their production, transmission, and storage context. Traces of traces are created; the log files, the telephony metadata, and layers of interaction are created on top of initial traces that can be leveraged beyond the content of deleted transactions to create new evidence despite the destruction of content.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 I am suggesting that radical appraisal practices, on the part of everyday record creators, are motivated by a mobile forensic imaginary that animates some kind of impulse to destroy born networked records. The impulse resides within a continuum of motivations—somewhere between the desire to destroy ephemeral digital objects and the fear that these digital things will last forever. Indeed, digital traces, log data, and metadata left behind from transmission are part of our forensic expectations for future archives. In part, these data shadows represent a world of ghosted technologies that together form and help popularize this imaginary, which spans devices from dissimilar time periods—each with distinct but linkable habits of deletion and destruction—to the ideas of data lasting forever, out of reach, in unknown and unseen spaces of infrastructure. Self-destructing messaging apps and temporary social media offer up a horizon of possibilities for us to consider what destroyed mobile records might mean as evidence in archives (personal or otherwise), and these possibilities of deleting suggest that mobile technologies are ghost-making inscription machines that hold promises, yet still unconfirmed, of lasting forever and being deleted almost instantly.59

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 In other words, the very act of engaging in forgetting, deleting, and the promise to destroy mobile media sets up new parameters for creating and keeping new kinds of records in platforms because of the metadata (sometimes described as trace data, data shadows, or data fumes) that are left behind.60 If we take how platforms build in such functions and how creators use these tools to appraise and evaluate records seriously, we might find some sustained meditations regarding the power of forgetting in the archive. Actively destroying traces, as I have described above, is a kind of radical practice where individuals creating personal digital archives with platforms are learning how to forget (or be forgotten) in new ways. These radical appraisal practices also reveal how memory is shifting as documentary mediation through networked infrastructures increases. Rethinking digital memory and storage in the terms of destruction, through this mobile forensic imaginary that confronts and configures data shadows, offers new ways of imagining projects, questions, theories, and the nature of the archive itself.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0  

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Conclusion

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 It is said that to be a good archivist, one must be good at destroying things. In sketching the initial contexts for, and usefulness of, the mobile forensic imaginary in this essay, I am not suggesting that the future of recordkeeping will be in destroying messages as they are received. Nor do I wish to spend too much time pointing out the technical impossibilities of many claims that mobile app companies and social media platforms make with regards to messaging tools, encryption, and the permanent self-destruction of digital traces. I do, however, want to draw attention to the rise of tools, emerging techniques, and social mores being built up around the destruction of mobile records, the persistence and power of data shadows as evidential transactions of communication have in this present moment, what this means for current ideas of what networked personal collections are, and what future archives created with networked ICTs will be.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 The destruction of records created with mobile communication infrastructure is a new landscape that archival scholars have yet to survey. By reading mobile records and social media platforms that capture evidential value, and by mapping their capacities for deletion and being completely destroyed, I wish to bring moments of personal communications, memory, storage, and sharing into relief. By cutting this relief into the surface of mobile communication infrastructures, we see the striking effects that settings, terms of service, platform updates, local storage on devices, and device functionalities have upon mobile records that circulate in our culture. In offering an account of the kinds of questions we ask about the present and future possibilities of personal digital archives created with mobile records, and in locating the origins of destruction, I do not mean to overlook the means of preservation and the future of cultural memory captured in mobile records. Instead, the account that I have offered here is meant to raise questions about how we can have a range of possibilities between destroying records, collecting, and keeping data traces of mobile records that are born networked, and how this raises new kinds of evidence in the archive. I am chiefly concerned with the evidence, or evidences, that destroyed mobile records may leave behind for scholars who are given to archival wanderings, and certainly to those ghosts that destroyed and absent records conjure for us.61

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 By attending to the current conditions that define and circumscribe possibilities for mobile records and ­­­their collection, destruction, and governance, we can provide a broader context for, and in many ways problematize, the very terms of creating and destroying evidence that make archives possible, as well as the questions we will ask of them in the future. An archive documents the practices involved in its assembly; it remembers what is destroyed.62 This is not simply an account of destruction, obfuscation, or erasure in current contexts. Instead, it is an early account of how we have come to create mobile records and their trace data, and how we come to know what we do when we destroy them. Future archives of personal telematics will be shaped by this forensic imagination.

  1. 52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0
  2. Richard A. Oppel Jr., “2 Teenagers Found Guilty in Steubenville, Ohio, Rape,” The New York Times, March 17, 2013,; Juliet Macur and Nate Schweber, “Rape Case Unfolds Online and Divides Steubenville,” The New York Times, December 16, 2012,; Joanna Walters, “Steubenville Rape Trial: Teenagers Treated Victim ‘like a Toy,’ Court Hears,” The Guardian, March 14, 2013, []
  3. Caitlin Dewey, “The Snappening Is Not a Hoax—but It Also Might Not Be as Big a Deal as You Think,” The Washington Post, October 13, 2014,; Mike Isaac, “A Look Behind the Snapchat Photo Leak Claims,” TheNew York Times, October 17, 2014,; Jay Mayfield, “Snapchat Settles FTC Charges That Promises of Disappearing Messages Were False,” Federal Trade Commission, May 8, 2014,;, “Post: 666573263457078 … I Would like to Elaborate on the Recent Events Regarding,” Facebook post, October 11, 2014,; “Snappening” Pastebin, October 11, 2014, []
  4. Michael S. Schmidt, “Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules,” The New York Times, March 2, 2015,; “Complete Text of Hillary Clinton’s Remarks on E-Mails, Iran,” The Washington Post, March 10, 2015, []
  5. Lucy Suchman, “Configuration,” in Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social, eds. Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford (New York: Routledge, 2012), 48. []
  6. Tarleton L. Gillespie, “The Politics of ‘Platforms,’” SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, May 1, 2010), []
  7. Amber L. Cushing, “Self Extension and the Desire to Preserve Digital Possessions,” Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 48, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 1–3, doi:10.1002/meet.2011.14504801304; Hsiao-Jane Anna Chen, “Disorder : Rethinking Hoarding inside and Outside the Museum,” August 2011,; Sarah Kim, “Personal Digital Archives: Preservation of Documents, Preservation of Self,” August 2013,; J.L. John, I. Rowlands, P. Williams, and K. Dean, “Digital Lives. Personal Digital Archives for the 21st Century: An Initial Synthesis, Digital Lives Research Paper, Beta Version 0.2,” Text, British Library, March 3, 2010,; Steven Warburton, Digital Identity and Social Media (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2012); Christopher A. Lee, ed., I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011). []
  8. The two most prominent and historic appraisal approaches came from Sir Hilary Jenkinson (1922) and T.R. Shellenberg (1956). Archival practice in the 1980s and 1990s saw the development of different approaches, including macro-appraisal, diplomatics, documentation strategy, and continuum theory. Many current approaches to digital collections involve saving as much digital corpora as possible (i.e., creating disk images in bulk) and then redacting information by “curating” sensitive data when providing access to archival users. Christopher Lee and the BitCurator Access team at the University of North Carolina are breaking ground with these redaction techniques as part of creating tools that support archival access to disk images. []
  9. Gerard Goggin and Larissa Hjorth, Mobile Technologies: From Telecommunications to Media (New York: Routledge, 2009); Jon Agar, Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone (London: Icon Books, 2013); Pierre Samuel, Next Generation Mobile Networks and Ubiquitous Computing (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2010); Franziska Roesner, Brian T. Gill, and Tadayoshi Kohno, “Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat’s Self-Destructing Messages,” Financial Cryptography and Data Security, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 8437: 64–76. []
  10. International Telecommunications Union, “The World in 2014: ICT Facts and Figures,” ITU, accessed April 12, 2015, []
  11. Here I am drawing upon Richard J. Cox, Luciana Duranti, Wolfgang Ernst, and Anne Gilliland, who have each tried to confront the problems of memory and appraisal in the digital age. See, for example, Anne Gilliland, Conceptualizing Twenty-First-Century Archives (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2014); Luciana Duranti, “The Concept of Appraisal and Archival Theory,” The American Archivist 57, No. 2 (Spring, 1994): 328–44; Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013); Richard J. Cox, No Innocent Deposits: Forming Archives by Rethinking Appraisal (Lanhma, MD and Oxford: Scarecrow Press, 2004); Richard J. Cox, Managing Records as Evidence and Information (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 2001). []
  12. Amelia Acker, “Born Networked Records: A History of the Short Message Service Format” (PhD diss., UCLA, 2014),; Amelia Acker, “When Is a Record? A Research Framework for Locating Electronic Records in Infrastructure,” in Research in the Archival Multiverse, eds. Anne J. Gilliland, Sue McKemmish, and Andrew J. Lau (Clayton, Australia: Monash University Publishing, 2015). []
  13. Jean-François Blanchette, “The Noise in the Archive: Oblivion in the Age of Total Recall,” in Computers, Privacy and Data Protection: An Element of Choice, eds. Serge Gutwirth, Yves Poullet, Paul De Hert, and Ronald Leenes, 25–38 (Springer Netherlands, 2011), []
  14. Ron E. Day, “Indexing It All: The Modern Documentary Subsuming of the Subject and Its Mediation of the Real,” iConference 2014 Proceedings, doi:10.9776/14140. []
  15. Brien Brothman, “The Past That Archives Keep: Memory, History, and the Preservation of Archival Records,” Archivaria 1, no. 51 (January 1, 2001),; S. Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” Archival Science 2, no. 1–2 (March 1, 2002): 1–19, doi:10.1007/BF02435628. []
  16. Philip E. Agre, “Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy,” The Information Society 10, no. 2 (April 1, 1994): 101–27, doi:10.1080/01972243.1994.9960162; Jean-François Blanchette and Deborah G. Johnson, “Data Retention and the Panoptic Society: The Social Benefits of Forgetfulness,” The Information Society 18, no. 1 (January 1, 2002): 33–45, doi:10.1080/01972240252818216; Blanchette, “The Noise in the Archive”; Susan Eva Landau, Surveillance Or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010); Susan Landau, “Making Sense from Snowden: What’s Significant in the NSA Surveillance Revelations,” IEEE Security & Privacy, 2013. []
  17. Social media researchers often frame the personal benefits of forgetting online as part of transitioning to adulthood. See, danah boyd and Alice E. Marwick, “Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies,” SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, September 22, 2011),; Zizi Papacharissi and Paige L. Gibson, “Fifteen Minutes of Privacy: Privacy, Sociality, and Publicity on Social Network Sites,” in Privacy Online, eds. Sabine Trepte and Leonard Reinecke, 75–89 (Berlin Heidelberg: Springer, 2011),; Bernhard Debatin, Jennette P. Lovejoy, Ann-Kathrin Horn, and Brittany N. Hughes, “Facebook and Online Privacy: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Unintended Consequences,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 15, no. 1 (October 1, 2009): 83–108. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01494.x; Ilana Gershon, The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011); danah boyd, “Social Steganography: Learning to Hide in Plain Sight,” Dml Central, August 23, 2010, []
  18. For some accounts of data collection of individual citizens and the emergence of a surveillance society before the internet, see Rex Malik, “The Data-bank Society: Can We Cope?” New Scientist and Science Journal 4 (1971); Edward V. Long, The Intruders: The Invasion of Privacy by Government and Industry (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 1967). []
  19. Day, “Indexing It All,” 574. []
  20. Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2012). []
  21. Lisa Nakamura, “Prospects for a materialist informatics: an interview with Donna Haraway,” electronic book review, August 30, 2003,; Evelyn Ruppert, John Law, and Mike Savage, “Reassembling Social Science Methods: The Challenge of Digital Devices,” Theory, Culture & Society 30, no. 4 (July 1, 2013): 22–46, doi:10.1177/0263276413484941. []
  22. Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum, “Vernacular Resistance to Data Collection and Analysis: A Political Theory of Obfuscation,” First Monday 16, no. 5 (April 26, 2011), doi:10.5210/fm.v16i5.3493; Mireille Hildebrandt and Katja de Vries, Privacy, Due Process and the Computational Turn: The Philosophy of Law Meets the Philosophy of Technology (New York: Routledge, 2013). []
  23. Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland, Enduring Paradigm, New Opportunities: The Value of the Archival Perspective in the Digital Environment (Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2000),; Sue McKemmish, “Evidence of Me,” The Australian Library Journal 45, no. 3 (January 1, 1996): 174–87, doi:10.1080/00049670.1996.10755757; Theodore R. Schellenberg, The Appraisal of Modern Public Records (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1956). []
  24. Luciana Duranti, Diplomatics: New Uses for an Old Science (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998); Patricia Galloway, “Preservation of Digital Objects,” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 38, no. 1 (January 1, 2004): 549–90, doi:10.1002/aris.1440380112; Paul Conway, “Archival Quality and Long-Term Preservation: A Research Framework for Validating the Usefulness of Digital Surrogates,” Archival Science 11, no. 3–4 (September 21, 2011): 293–309, doi:10.1007/s10502-011-9155-0. []
  25. The work of Ciaran Trace, Cal Lee, and Margaret Hedstrom are notable exceptions. See Ciaran B. Trace, “Beyond the Magic to the Mechanism: Computers, Materiality, and What It Means for Records to Be ‘Born Digital,’” Archivaria 72, no. 72 (February 12, 2011),; Lee, I, Digital; Hedstrom, “Understanding Electronic Incunabula.” []
  26. It is worth pointing out that the work of new media scholars engaged with the materiality of information infrastructures has influenced recent archival scholarship. Matthew Kirschenbaum, Lisa Gitelman, Lisa Parks, and Lisa Nakamura have turned towards material elements of information infrastructures to analyze new media, such as hard discs, PDFs, cell towers, and integrated circuits (microchips). Each attends to the discursive formation of media formats, including data storage, transmission, and platform functionalities of ICTs by way of their material formations. For archival scholars, the material formations of new media formats captures evidence(s) of transactions in potentially new ways for the study of records and recordkeeping cultures. I am especially interested in the potential that these new media techniques would have if applied to describing and measuring the environmental impacts of digital-preservation infrastructure such as digital archives and data centers, including costs such as energy consumption and waste. See Matthew Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms : New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008); Lisa Gitelman, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014); Lisa Parks, Coverage: Media Spaces and Security After 9/11 (New York: Routledge, 2011); Lisa Nakamura, “Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture.” American Quarterly 66.4 (2014): 919-941. []
  27. Kimberly Anderson, “The Footprint and the Stepping Foot: Archival Records, Evidence, and Time,” Archival Science 13, no. 4 (September 14, 2012): 349–71, doi:10.1007/s10502-012-9193-2. []
  28. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (New York, NY: Vintage, 1982). []
  29. Jean Baudrillard and Sylvère Lotringer, The Ecstasy of Communication (Autonomedia, 1988). []
  30. Many mobile communication scholars have studied the transition to mobile-telecommunications infrastructure that supports data transmission, and what this “shift into media brings,” Goggin and Hjorth, Mobile Technologies, 5. []
  31. Richard M. Kesner, “Whither Archivy?: Some Personal Observations Addressed to Those Who Would Fiddle While Rome Burns,” Archivaria 1, no. 20 (January 1, 1985),; Margaret Hedstrom, “Understanding Electronic Incunabula: A Framework for Research on Electronic Records,” American Archivist 54, no. 3 (July 1, 1991): 334–54; Anne Gilliland-Swetland, “Archivy and the Computer: A Citation Analysis of North American Archival Periodical Literature,” Archival Issues 17, no. 2 (January 1, 1992): 95–112; Terry Cook, “Easy to Byte, Harder to Chew: The Second Generation of Electronic Records Archives,” Archivaria 1, no. 33 (February 2, 1991), []
  32. Amelia Acker, “The Short Message Service: Standards, Infrastructure and Innovation,” Telematics and Informatics 31, no. 4 (November 2014): 559–68, doi:10.1016/j.tele.2014.01.004; Michelle Caswell, “Instant Documentation: Cell-Phone-Generated Records in the Archives,” American Archivist 72, no. 1 (April 1, 2009): 133–45; Landau, Surveillance Or Security? []
  33. International Telecommunications Union, “The World in 2014”; Michael O’Grady, “SMS Usage Remains Strong in the US: 6 Billion SMS Messages Are Sent Each Day,” Data Insights Professionals, Forrester blog, June 19, 2012,; Agar, Constant Touch. []
  34. Gerard Goggin, Cell Phone Culture: Mobile Technology in Everyday Life (New York: Routledge, 2012); James Everett Katz and Mark A. Aakhus, Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); John Vines, Paul Dunphy, and Andrew Monk, “Pay or Delay: The Role of Technology When Managing a Low Income,” CHI ’14 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 501–10 (2014), doi:10.1145/2556288.2556961. []
  35. Svein Willassen, “Forensic Analysis of Mobile Phone Internal Memory,” in Advances in Digital Forensics, eds. Mark Pollitt and Sujeet Shenoi, 191–204, Volume 194 of the series IFIP — The International Federation for Information Processing (Springer US, 2006),; I. I. Androulidakis, Mobile Phone Security and Forensics: A Practical Approach (Springer Science & Business Media, 2012); J. Reardon, D. Basin, and S. Capkun, “SoK: Secure Data Deletion,” 2013 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (SP), 301–15, 2013, doi:10.1109/SP.2013.28. []
  36. Haman Allen and David Herman, “Challenges of Mobile Devices, BYOD and eDiscovery,” Law Technology Today, September 19, 2014,; Acker, “Born Networked Records.” []
  37. Agar, Constant Touch; William Aspray and Barbara M. Hayes, Everyday Information: The Evolution of Information Seeking in America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011). []
  38. For example, many US states ban texting while driving, this may include apps, while the President has the ability to text emergency alerts for national disasters through a cell broadcast system. Universities use text messages for campus safety alerts. Short code texting, sending a short text to a clearinghouse instead of a complete phone number, is also frequently used in voting for variety shows on television, such as American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. []
  39. The controversy is also called “Ballghazi.” Underinflated footballs are easier to throw, catch, and grip. The Patriots were winning 17-7 at the halftime when NFL officials inspected the footballs. Conflicting reports cite eleven or one of the twelve footballs used by the Patriots were below the minimum pressure range; the game balls were inflated to meet specifications for the second half and the Patriots scored 28 more points, beating the Colts 45-7. []
  40. Theodore V. Wells Jr., Brad S. Karp, and Lorin L. Reisner, “Investigative Report Concerning Footballs Used During the AFC Championship Game on January 18, 2015,” (PAUL, WEISS, RIFKIND, WHARTON & GARRISON LLP, May 6, 2015), 122. []
  41. Matt Rocheleau, “How Hard Was It for Tom Brady to Delete His Texts?” Boston Globe, July 30, 2015, []
  42. Darin Gantt, “Goodell Cites Destroying Phone in Upholding Tom Brady’s Suspension,” NBC Sports, July 28, 2015, []
  43. Gregg Rosenthal, “Roger Goodell Upholds Tom Brady Suspension,”, July 29, 2015, []
  44. Conor Orr, “Tom Brady Responds to Roger Goodell’s Ruling,”, July 29, 2015, []
  45. To clarify, mobile service providers in the United States retain a range of telephony data and metadata created by subscribers, but the content of text messages is not retained after short periods of time, ranging from zero to five days (depending on the provider) and in a few cases up to three months (specifically, Virgin Mobile with a federal search warrant). The details of text messages (not the actual message content) are transmission metadata of messages. These telephony metadata are retained for two months to seven years, depending on the service provider. For the latest information on mobile-data retention periods, consult the US Department of Justice, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and the American Civil Liberties Union. []
  46. Amelia Abreu, “Collaborative Collecting: A Literature Review,” InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies 9, no. 1 (January 1, 2013),; Amelia Acker and Jed R. Brubaker, “Death, Memorialization, and Social Media: A Platform Perspective for Personal Archives,” Archivaria 77, no. 0 (May 23, 2014),; Mary Czerwinski, Douglas W. Gage, Jim Gemmell, Catherine C. Marshall, Manuel A. Pérez-Quiñones, Meredith M. Skeels, and Tiziana Catarci, “Digital Memories in an Era of Ubiquitous Computing and Abundant Storage,” Communications of the ACM 49, no. 1 (January 2006): 44–50, doi:10.1145/1107458.1107489; Catherine C. Marshall, “Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 1: Four Challenges from the Field,” D-Lib Magazine 14, no. 3/4 (March 2008), doi:10.1045/march2008-marshall-pt1; Elizabeth F. Churchill, “Scrupulous, Scrutable, and Sumptuous: Personal Data Futures,” Interactions 21, no. 5 (September 2014): 20–21, doi:10.1145/2656856. []
  47. Bergis Jules, “Documenting the Now: #Ferguson in the Archives—On Archivy,” Medium, April 8, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, . []
  48. Hany M. SalahEldeen and Michael L. Nelson, “Losing My Revolution: How Many Resources Shared on Social Media Have Been Lost?” in Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries, eds. Panayiotis Zaphiris, George Buchanan, Edie Rasmussen, and Fernando Loizides, 125–37, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 7489 (Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012),; Kam Woods, Christopher A. Lee, and Sunitha Misra, “Automated Redaction of Private and Personal Data in Collections: Toward Responsible Stewardship of Digital Heritage,” in Proceedings of Archiving 2013, 239–44 (Springfield, Virginia: Society for Imaging Science and Technology, 2013); Elizabeth F. Churchill and Atish Das Sarma, “Data Design for Personalization: Current Challenges and Emerging Opportunities,” in Proceedings of the 7th ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining, 693–94 (New York, NY: ACM, 2014), doi:10.1145/2556195.2556211; John et al., “Digital Lives.”

    53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Ed Summers’ work developing the Ferguson Twitter Archive, creating the Python program twarc (a portmanteau for Twitter Archive), and training archivists and activists how to collect and archive tweets through Twitter’s search API at archive and digital humanities conferences and workshops is an exemplary case of “documenting the now” with tools of the now. However, providing access to these collected archives with these bleeding-edge technologies remains a challenge for archivists and social-media researchers as the once acclaimed and now failed Library of Congress Twitter Archive shows. For more on the challenges to providing access to collected tweets, see Michael Zimmer, “The Twitter Archive at the Library of Congress: Challenges for information practice and information policy,” First Monday 20, no. 7 (July 6, 2015). []

  49. boyd and Marwick, “Social Privacy in Networked Publics”; boyd, “Social Steganography”; Czerwinski et al., “Digital Memories in an Era of Ubiquitous Computing and Abundant Storage”; Tero Karppi, “Digital Suicide and the Biopolitics of Leaving Facebook,” Transformations: Journal of Media & Culture 20 (2011),; Debatin et al., “Facebook and Online Privacy”; Papacharissi and Gibson, “Fifteen Minutes of Privacy”; Eric P.S. Baumer, Morgan G. Ames, Jed R. Brubaker, Jenna Burrell, and Paul Dourish, “Refusing, Limiting, Departing: Why We Should Study Technology Non-Use,” In CHI ’14 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 65–68 (New York, NY: ACM, 2014), doi:10.1145/2559206.2559224; Kevin Roose, “Meet the Tweet-Deleters: People Who Are Making Their Twitter Histories Self-Destruct,” Fusion, February 19, 2015,; Cushing, “Self Extension and the Desire to Preserve Digital Possessions”; Ilana Gershon, “Un-Friend My Heart: Facebook, Promiscuity, and Heartbreak in a Neoliberal Age,” Anthropological Quarterly 84, no. 4 (2011): 865–94, doi:10.1353/anq.2011.0048. []
  50. The FAQs and information from developers published for consumers about the motivations for temporary social media tools are worth examining closely as artifacts of a mobile forensic imaginary. Confide, “Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed April 12, 2015, []
  51. I see myself as a kind of public surveyor first, for I, too, create and am rendered in these interpersonal networked archives and these platforms as an individual subject. Recently, I took down and deleted hundreds of posts, favestars, and photos from devices and platforms after a breakup and a move to a new city. On the other hand, I also see myself, in part, as a private land speculator in this moment, in that I am an archival educator who trains archivists to study and preserve digital cultures. []
  52. Abreu, “Collaborative Collecting”; Kim, “Personal Digital Archives”; Jed R. Brubaker and Gillian R. Hayes, “‘We Will Never Forget You [online]’: An Empirical Investigation of Post-Mortem Myspace Comments,” in Proceedings of the ACM 2011 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 123–32 (New York, NY: ACM, 2011), doi:10.1145/1958824.1958843; Jed R. Brubaker, Lynn S. Dombrowski, Anita M. Gilbert, Nafiri Kusumakaulika, and Gillian R. Hayes, “Stewarding a Legacy: Responsibilities and Relationships in the Management of Post-Mortem Data,” in Proceedings of the 32nd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 4157–66 (New York, NY: ACM, 2014), doi:10.1145/2556288.2557059. Though this is changing with after-death planning products such as Google’s Inactive Account Manager tool, Facebook’s Legacy Contact designation, and Twitter’s request for account deactivation after a family member’s death. []
  53. Acker and Brubaker, “Death, Memorialization, and Social Media.” []
  54. Amelia Abreu, “The Collection and the Cloud,” The New Inquiry, March 9, 2015, []
  55. Paul Dourish, “No SQL: The Shifting Materialities of Database Technology : Computational Culture,” Computational Culture: A Journal of Software Studies (November 9, 2014), []
  56. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011). []
  57. Ed Summers, “Tweets and Deletes,” Medium, April 14, 2015, []
  58. James E. Katz, Magic in the Air: Mobile Communication and the Transformation of Social Life (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2011); Trace, “Beyond the Magic to the Mechanism.” []
  59. R.S. Geiger and D. Ribes, “Trace Ethnography: Following Coordination through Documentary Practices,” in 2011 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), 1–10, 2011, doi:10.1109/HICSS.2011.455; David Ribes, Steven Jackson, Stuart Geiger, Matthew Burton, and Thomas Finholt, “Artifacts That Organize: Delegation in the Distributed Organization,” Information and Organization 23, no. 1 (January 2013): 1–14, doi:10.1016/j.infoandorg.2012.08.001. Trace ethnography scholars have pointed to the potentials of trace data, pacing, and time between transactions. I am particularly indebted to James Howison for this insight. []
  60. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (New York: Routledge, 2012). []
  61. Jim Thatcher, “Big Data, Big Questions| Living on Fumes: Digital Footprints, Data Fumes, and the Limitations of Spatial Big Data,” International Journal of Communication 8, no. 0 (June 16, 2014): 19; Taylor Shelton, Ate Poorthuis, Mark Graham, and Matthew Zook, “Mapping the Data Shadows of Hurricane Sandy: Uncovering the Sociospatial Dimensions of ‘big Data,’” Geoforum 52 (March 2014): 167–79, doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.01.006. []
  62. Here I am wedging open a space, as José Esteban Muñoz did when he argued that ephemera is a kind evidence: “These notes are meant to open up a space for the writing that follows—writing that re-makes rigor and questions what an archive is” (emphasis added). José Esteban Muñoz, “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 8, no. 2 (January 1, 1996): 5–16, 11, doi:10.1080/07407709608571228. []
  63. Brothman, “The Past That Archives Keep,” 63. []

Radical Appraisal Practices and the Mobile Forensic Imaginary

Amelia Acker

Assistant Professor, School of Information Sciences – University of Pittsburgh

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