Sunday, June 02, 2013

Texas blows opportunity to lead nation on cell-phone privacy

Damn it! Along with the rest of the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition, I'd hoped this would be Texas: From the May 30th Maine Sunday Telegram, "Maine cellphone-privacy law is America's first." Their story opened:
Maine's Legislature is poised to become the first in the nation to enact a law requiring police to obtain warrants to get the location history for people's cellphones.

The House voted 113-28 on Wednesday to pass the measure, following its passage in the Senate last week by a margin of five votes. The bill now goes back to the Senate for enactment.
Apparently, though, it's not completely a done deal. Ryan Gallagher at Slate reported that:
For the Maine legislation, there’s just one more challenge ahead. While the Senate has already voted in support of the bill, 20-15, local news reports have speculated that unless the legislature can find funding for LD 415’s fiscal note of almost $234,000 during the next two years, final enactment could fall through.
The lopsided margin of support in the Maine House of Representatives reminded me of the dynamic on our cell-phone location legislation here in Texas. Notably, the vote in the Texas House in favor of an amendment to require warrants for cell-phone location data won by a phenomenal 126-4 margin. But the authors of the bill it was attached to, Rep. John Frullo and Sen. John Carona, killed it with a procedural maneuver and sent a version to the Governor without requiring warrants for cell-phone location data, though we did of course get first-in-the-nation amendment tacked on to require warrants for cloud-based email and other stored communications.

Congrats to the advocates and legislators in Maine who pulled this off and I hope the funding comes through. With a little luck, perhaps in 2015 Texas will follow your lead. Would have been awfully sweet to get that this session, though. We came darn close. To my mind, the warrants-for-email bill is a nice but insufficient consolation prize compared to what Maine has accomplished.

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