On Friday, Texas governor Rick Perry signed HB 2268, a House Bill that prevents state and local law enforcement from snooping in email without a warrant, effective immediately. The amendment was written by 29-year-old Republican Jonathan Strickland who represents the district between Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas.
Before the signing of HB 2268, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which was established way back in 1986, stated that law enforcement agencies only needed to acquire a warrant when accessing recent emails before they were opened by the recipient. A warrant was not needed if the email had been left unopened for 180 days, or if it was already opened by the recipient.
However during a Congressional hearing back in March, the Department of Justice acknowledged that this particular rule is outdated, that email less than 180 days old should be treated no differently than email more than 180 days old. Even more, opened emails should not have lesser privacy protection than unopened email. The rule was written when ALF was making its first appearance on TV, and simply doesn't make since in the Glee-infested 2010's.
"[The ACLU has] said that there should always be a warrant for e-mail," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "To me, this is one of those things that is a core constitutional value. We’ve always said that we protect communications with a warrant, whether it was physical mail 150 years ago, telephone calls 40 years ago, or e-mail today."
The Texas bill seems like a move in the right direction in protecting the privacy of Texans, but as the Star-Telegram points out, it only covers the actions of state and local officers: it doesn't keep the government out of email boxes. Many lawmakers in Washington, D.C., including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), want similar changes to federal regulations.
The Star-Telegram also reports that the bill addresses non-email data stored by Internet service providers, and cloud storage providers like Dropbox and Google Drive. Like emails, local and state officials must now convince a judge that they are seeking information as part of a legitimate inquiry no matter how old the data is.