Friday, May 31, 2013

National tech press loves Stickland email legislation: Will it become law?

After Ars Technica published a widely read piece calling the bill "unprecedented" and the National Journal followed up, several more news stories have come out regarding legislation now pending before the Governor, HB 2268, which includes an amendment by Rep. Jonathon Stickland to require warrants for government to access cloud-based email. See earlier Grits coverage and these recent stories:
Jonathon Tilove at the Austin Statesman linked to the Ars and National Journal stories but besides that, surprisingly the Austin Business Journal is the only Texas media outlet to cover the bill's passage, much less mention that Texas would be the first state to install a warrant requirement for cloud-based email. My theory is that reporters don't want to have to say anything nice about the author of the email amendment, Jonathon Stickland, who's become a bit of a whipping boy in the liberal press and authored a bill aimed at gutting government subsidies to newspapers. Free from such biases, the national tech press (rightly) consider it landmark legislation.

During session, Grits had considered the warrants-for-email bill a bit of a consolation prize. Location data was where government put up a real fight, probably because the tool is used much more often. Location data is an investigative shortcut; reading reams of old email is a slog, so investigators do it a lot less often. Plus, the law-enforcement lobby really didn't want to stand up in public and say the cops should be able to read your personal email without a warrant. Even those registering opposition to HB 3164 at the committee hearing merely "put in a card." Nobody wanted to speak publicly against it, much less answer questions from legislators on the topic.

Several reporters have asked if I think Rick Perry will veto the bill. While having no direct knowledge, Grits tends to doubt it. For starters, the warrant-requirement was amended to prosecutor-friendly legislation that the DAs actually want. Plus, the bill has gotten loads of positive national press, many of the stories plastered with Perry's picture. It sets Texas apart from the Obama Administration which has a terrible record on this topic. Mr. Stickland gives it a fine, grassroots conservative Tea Party imprimatur. And since the Lege didn't do much for ideological conservatives this year, this is something to sell. Meanwhile, vetoing it would open the governor up to criticism from grassroots conservatives in a potential primary fight with Greg Abbott, John Cornyn, or (God help us) another presidential run. Finally, it's the right thing to do and Perry's record on criminal justice reform topics isn't half bad, though the Fourth Amendment has been a weak spot. I just don't see a reason he would pick this bill out of the pile to veto and many reasons for him to let it become law.

One thing's for sure: We'll know by Father's Day.

RELATED: Federalism, search warrants and cloud-based email: Correcting a false meme

No comments: