Before the NSA leaks, everybody thought the worst the government could do was obtain your email without a warrant. Well, they can still do that, but Texas has just made it harder for local law enforcement to do the same.
Ars Technica reports that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed into law a bill that requires local and state law enforcement to obtain a warrant when snooping through email. The law is the first of its kind as no other state has tried to stop the warrantless email snooping that came to light last year with the ECPA debate.
For those unaware, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA, is a 1986 law that allows law enforcement to obtain emails without a warrant. More specifically, the law only requires a subpoena if the email in question has already been opened, or if it’s 180 days old. There have been numerous attempts in Congress to pass an ECPA amendment that would require federal officials to obtain warrants when snooping through emails, but chances of passage don’t look good.
Without a revision to federal law, the Texas bill lacks any real bite. Sure, it protects emails from the snooping of state and local police, but it doesn’t apply to federal agents. Those same state police work hand-in-hand with federal agents on a variety of cases so it’s not hard to see how state police could exploit that loophole by having somebody in the FBI obtain emails for them.
Even worse, a revision of federal law might not stop anything. It was recently revealed that the NSA gathers tons of information, including emails, from online service providers. Google, Facebook and others have all denied the claims, and even released transparency reports to prove that the government is going through the proper channels. It still doesn’t change the fact that many people can’t trust the government or the secret FISA courts anymore.
In short, Texas gets an A for effort. It’s a nice gesture, but it probably won’t accomplish anything.