Texas becomes first US state to ban warrantless email snooping

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Texas image courtesy of Shutterstock.Texas has become the first US state to ban email snooping without a warrant.

Governor Rick Perry signed the new privacy bill - HB 2268 - into law on Friday. It went into effect immediately.

The bill enacts a law that sets Texas residents apart from the other 49 states by protecting them from state and local law enforcement surveillance carried out without a warrant.

The portion of the bill that pertains to privacy was written by 29-year-old freshman Republican legislator Jonathan Stickland, who represents an area between Dallas and Fort Worth.

Stickland told the Star-Telegram that he's fighting for ideals that all US citizens can get behind - a sentiment the newspaper applauded:

“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."

As Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar points out, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) requires federal law enforcement to get a warrant only to access email that hasn't yet been opened by its recipient.

After it's open, sitting around in an inbox, it's been fair game. Ditto if the email has been left unopened in an inbox for 180 days.

The Department of Justice for the first time acknowledged in March that maintaining different legal standards for finely aged email is an outdated notion, supporting revisions to ECPA.

In the meantime, as we wait for revisions to ECPA, the residents of 49 US states are subject to a lower level of privacy than the Lone Star State.

That's a nickname granted to Texas, some say, to signify that it's a former independent republic, as well as a reminder of the state's struggle for independence from Mexico.

Let's hope that 49 other states follow the privacy path pointed out by that star.

Image of Texas courtesy of Shutterstock.

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12 Responses to Texas becomes first US state to ban warrantless email snooping

  1. Toney · 805 days ago

    Don't worry Texas, Obama has Holder working on your law to have it listed as illegal.

  2. Dan · 805 days ago

    Leave it to a Republican legislator to call liberals "weenies" in an interview. That lack of maturity is just one small part of why it's hard to trust them.

    • Nigel · 804 days ago

      Make sure you fan the flames of partisan political hatred further. In one stroke, your comment implies that if Republicans aren't trustworthy, their opponents are. In fact, that kind of false alternative is precisely what makes politics-as-usual such a non-solution.

      Maybe you ought to try actually reading the article. The comment about "weenies" was made by a newspaper editorial, not by the legislator who sponsored the bill.

      Did it ever occur to you that the significant point in this article (and kudos to Lisa for making it) is NOT the usual idiotic partisan squabbling? Rather, it's the fact that, somehow, Texas managed to rise above such nonsense and elevate privacy to the level of importance it deserves—namely, above the usual partisan political blather and babble.

    • Laurence Marks · 804 days ago

      Uhh, Dan, that was not Stickland, the Republican legislator. That statement was made by the editor of the Star-Telegram. Why don't you go back and re-read the article a bit more carefully.

    • Steve · 804 days ago

      Pay closer attention to what you read, Dan. That was an editorial commentary piece, not an interview, and the "weenie" reference was made by the newspaper's editorial board, not by a Republican legislator.

      Your lack of attention to facts and details is just one small part of why it's hard to trust liberal weenies.

  3. Wolf_Star · 805 days ago

    Why is it so many people use the label "liberal" like it's some kind of disease?

    And "Republican" or "Tea Party" like they are the ultimate in conservatism?

    If one remembers one's American History, the Founding Fathers were "liberals" who took on the establishment (conservatives) to break away from England and found this very nation.

    And referring to liberals as "weenies" is a complete oxymoron. Weenies seldom want to do anything that might be frightening or that causes a ruffling of feathers or that changes the status quo. That actually sounds more conservative than anything.

    So enough with the labels and attempts to paint everyone with broad brush strokes and demeaning names. There are liberals, conservatives, liberal conservatives, conservative liberals and just about every variation in between.

    Bringing people together by labeling them doesn't work unless it's an all-inclusive label such as "American Citizen". Anything less only serves to separate and alienate.

    • Lee · 804 days ago

      Adding to your excellent post, one should remember that the original 13 colonies were (in no particular order) New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

      I'll let people decide for themselves, but of these original colonies, does anyone else besides me see a pattern of which states are the most vocal in suppressing individual rights and freedoms? And the most active in pursuing new laws that further undermine and erode individual liberties? Just askin' . . .

  4. Vito · 804 days ago

    Texas got it right. Privacy should not be a partisan issue that gets dragged into the muck and mire of stupid political bickering. Privacy is a fundamental human right. It's time we evolved past the primordial slime of party politics and started protecting the rights of individual people.

  5. Lisa Vaas · 804 days ago

    Am I the only one who thought "liberal weenies" was an extremely funny insult? My original first line, edited out: "Texas has become the first US state to ban warrantless email surveillance in what the best quote out there says is a move celebrated by both Tea Party Republicans and liberal weenies." At any rate, don't blame Strickland for that phrase. It was the Star-Telegram editorial's wording.

  6. Gena · 804 days ago

    This seems to only effect state/local authorities - doesn't seem to address federal level.

    • NetD · 803 days ago

      But it's an important start. Let's hope state/local authorities begin practicing or using some sort of legal loophole that allows them to "borrow" from these federal practices since those too are legal in the eyes of the law. Good on TX.

  7. Scott · 804 days ago

    So much focus on labels, and so little on the issue at hand. Pay attention. Something important might have happened here.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.