Unless Governor Rick Perry uses his veto, Texas is set to enact the most stringent email privacy protections in the country. The legislation, passed unanimously, would require state law enforcement agencies to secure search warrants before accessing emails.
Previously, Texas mirrored federal rules, which make a nonsensical distinction between recent emails and emails that are older than 180 days. For the latter, law enforcement don't need search warrants. A federal appeals court ruled back in 2010 that the feds can't force an Internet service provider to give up emails without a court order, but the other circuits have been split on the issue ever since.
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The bill authored by GOP freshman Jonathan Strickland, whose district encompasses parts of Bedford, Euless and Hurst, won't touch federal investigations. Yet it may push Congress to take up reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed into law nearly two decades ago, and spur renewed consideration in the federal judiciary. An ACLU senior policy analyst told Ars Technica:
It sends a signal to conservative members who might not yet be on board that this is something being supported in their own states and it helps the courts to see that this is a safe space to venture into. When cities and states start protecting e-mail, then judges may feel like there is a reasonable expectation of privacy."
Not bad for the pistol-packing Tea Party freshman legislator, who was voted second-worst in the state by Texas Tribune readers. In January, he told the Austin American-Statesman: "I plan on having the most conservative voting record in the entire House of Representatives." It was not clear at press time just what the hell that actually means.
The email privacy bill was pushed largely by the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition, which announced on its website that "Texas may be the first state in the nation to take this step, and we're way ahead of Congress."