The Boston Globe interviewed me during the summer of 2015 about Tom Brady’s deleted text messages. The Globe asked, “How Hard Is It to Permanently Delete Text Messages?” I answered, “The likelihood of it being an accident is well less than 1 percent.”
I based my answer on Carney Forensics’ cell phone forensics practice. We have been examining hundreds of smartphones for mobile evidence for over a decade. Every week we are pursuing deleted text messages.
Breaking a smartphone to the point where text messages are completely unrecoverable would almost certainly have to be done on purpose. Why did I say that? The key to erasing texts is to damage the device’s computer chips, which are used for memory. But doing so requires inflicting some serious force on the device, and even some precision, as memory chips are as small as the fingernail on your pinky finger. And the memory chips, as well as the phones themselves, are quite durable.
Many common methods for intentionally destroying phones do not make text messages and other data irretrievable. For example, shattering a device’s screen, breaking its charging ports or on-off switches, crushing it under a weight, or submerging it in water are unlikely to wipe out the memory. These are very resilient devices. To ensure that the texts are gone forever, Brady or his assistants would have likely had to obliterate the device.