Despite having lost his bid for the presidency, Texas Governor Rick Perry now finds himself again in a position of (potential) national leadership. On the way to his desk is a bill that would put Texas far ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to protecting consumers' electronic privacy.
Unless Perry takes action to veto it, the legislation would fix a legal loophole that currently lets law enforcement seize opened emails (or unopened emails older than 180 days) with little more than an administrative subpoena. Under the new law, which passed the state House on Monday and the state Senate on Tuesday, investigators would need to get a search warrant before asking businesses to hand over consumer records.
The bill mirrors reforms that have been floated in the U.S. Senate, and as Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar first noted, letting it become law could put pressure on Congress to fast-track updates to the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 27-year-old statute. ECPA reforms recently made their way out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and are waiting for a floor vote. The Department of Justice has also given its approval to the rule change on emails.
The Texas bill can't override ECPA; it can only change the way the state deals with lower-level cases. But it would set a high-profile example.
That's what federalism, with its intent that states be laboratories of democracy, is all about. The concept has been weakened over the years, and states can't supersede federal law, but they can augment in ways that suit them them better. This is one example I hop other states, especially Indiana, follow. Our privacy is being chipped away at every day, and our expectations of privacy are eroding, too.