Texas becomes first US state to ban warrantless email snooping

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for the first time acknowledged in March that maintaining different legal standards for finely aged email is an outdated notion, supporting revisions to ECPA.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