Texas Governor signs tough email privacy law
Governor Rick Perry signed into law Texas bill HB 2268 this week, making Texas home to the strictest email privacy protections in America. After passing unanimously, HB 2268 requires state law enforcement agencies to secure search warrants before accessing emails – formerly, the state adopted federal rules which gave law enforcement access to emails over 180 days old without a warrant.
Critics note that federal investigators still have access to emails under federal law, but supporters note that state leadership is expected to legislate what is in their power to legislate. The signing of the bill could get the ball rolling for other states and even apply pressure to Congress to finally reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) which passed the same year as the Iran-Contra affair, so it goes without saying that communications have dramatically changed since then, and both parties are pushing for reform.
In light of the recent NSA scandal, the ECPA has other rules that have come under fire such as the ability for federal law enforcement agencies only having to get a warrant to access recent emails prior to their being opened by a recipient, but once opened, it is fair game.
Most agree on one thing: privacy
A recent Star-Telegram editorial noted, “Despite the many differences between Tea Party Republicans like Stickland and the most liberal weenies you might find in Austin, there also tend to be some similarities. One of them is that whatever government does, it should do in the open. There can be arguments over exactly what government transparency is, but both liberals and Tea Partiers tend to be for it.”
Further, Attorney General Eric Holder stated at a Congressional hearing this spring, “there is no principled basis to treat e-mail less than 180 days old differently than e-mail more than 180 days old.”
Texas’ privacy bill takes effect on September 1st of this year and protects Texas residents from any state entity reading their emails without a warrant. Authored by 29 year old freshman Representative, John Strickland, the bill will likely be used as a template for other states and possibly the federal government, moving the agenda for transparency forward, particularly in light of the Department of Justice stating earlier this year that they would support updates to the ECPA.