In one of the silliest turf grabs by a profession against the laity that I've ever seen, someone has convinced the Texas legislature that every personal computer repair technician in the state must obtain … a private investigator's license.
Unlicensed computer shops will have to close down until they obtain a private investigator's license.
A private investigator's license can be obtained by acquiring a criminal justice degree or by getting a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed private investigator.
The new law also impacts consumers. Consumers who knowingly take computers to an unlicensed company for repair can face the same penalties.
Perhaps the thinking goes: criminals, with their viruses, malware, and trojans, are at the root of most pc breakdowns, so we wouldn't want unlicensed vigilantes, lacking criminal justice degrees, to take the law as well as hard drives, fans, sockets, and soldering irons into their own hands. Possibly this is just more evidence of the weird sexual hangups that seem to plague Texas politicians. Someone heard of unlicensed dicks inserting themselves into people's laptops, and demanded a law.
Or maybe there was no thinking at all. There is a crime going on here, but it's political graft at work. Either way, Texas computer repairmen who lack a detective's license will soon be quoting Raymond Chandler:
"Trouble is my business."
What an interesting post this has become. I found this story through Slashdot minutes before leaving for work, and threw something up. As it turns out, my interpretation of the law (which I'll admit I'd not read) is pretty far off-base, as is that promoted on Slashdot, as is that of Extremetech, as is that of PCMag, and a host of other sites far larger than Popehat.
The law in question amends the description of an "investigations company" (a private detective) to include one whose business is:
obtaining or furnishing information includes information obtained or furnished through the review and analysis of, and the investigation into the content of, computer-based data not available to the public.
And in context, this must be one who:
engages in the business of securing, or accepts employment to secure, evidence for use before a court, board, officer, or investigating committee.
Now, taking this language to apply to one who just looks at a customer's hard drive to see if the Windows installation is bugged goes too far, and I think no court would ever apply it as such. More to the point, no sensible prosecutor would ever take such a case. The law in question, as amended and as I interpret it, requires licensing for computer forensics examiners.
Now, whether such examiners should be licensed as private investigators as another question entirely, but one can make a defensible argument that the level of confidentiality and discretion required of such may make the background checks and state supervison afforded to private investigators in the normal course desirable for computer forensics examiners. These people are looking for evidence of crime, not trying to determine why grandma can't play minesweeper since she clicked on that popup ad.
But the entire web is taking the most draconian interpretation, because, like me, they have haven't / handn't read the law.
The journalistic root of this story, as far as I can tell, is what I've linked above. But the source of the journalism, so far as I can tell, is in a new suit filed by the Texas branch of the Institute of Justice, Rife v. Texas Private Security Board, just filed in Harris County Texas, seeking a declaration that the law is unconstitutionally overbroad. That may be, but I disagree with IOJ's interpretation of this law as one that could be extended to a mom and pop computer repair store, or to systems analysts, ordinary data examiners employed to interpret customer data, or in fact anyone except for a computer forensics specialist. I suspect Texas prosecutors would also disagree, and would never charge an ordinary computer repair tech for violating this law.
The story I originally linked appears to be, with little alteration, a simple adaptation of a Texas IOJ press release, which you can see by clicking here.
I've retooled this post, thanks to my co-blogger Ken and commenter Kevin C (who linked to the law and worries about the overbroad interpretation), and am sending a link to the Texas IOJ, which hopefully will respond or make a copy of the suit available on the web, as Harris County Texas doesn't make them available through public e-filing systems like RACER/PACER.