Austin, Texas—The Texas Private Security Board yesterday declined for a second time to adopt a rule that would end the justifiable confusion over whether computer repair technicians in the state must be government-licensed private investigators to continue solving their customers’ computer problems.
Under 2007 amendments to Texas’s Private Security Act, a computer repair technician without a government-issued private investigator’s license may not take any action that the government deems to be an “investigation.” The law’s definition of “investigation” is extremely broad, including the “review and analysis of, and the investigation into the content of, computer-based data[.]”
The Board first considered language designed to clarify the law at a July 23, 2008 meeting. The investigations industry suggested that the Board issue a rule that, “The repair or maintenance of a computer does not require licensing under the [Private Security] Act, even if during the course of the repair or maintenance the person discovers information described by [the relevant subsection of the law].” The Board tabled the proposal and placed similar language on its public agenda for October 30, 2008. Yesterday, the Board declined to discuss its new language in public, deciding in secret behind closed doors to again table the proposal.
Computer repair technicians are not the only ones at risk. The law also punishes consumers who knowingly use a tech who doesn’t have a P.I. license to perform any repair that constitutes an investigation in the eyes of the government. Consumers are subject to the same harsh penalties as the repair shops they use—criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, and civil penalties of up to $10,000—just for having their computer repaired by a technician who has taken the time to learn about computers rather than surveillance and other aspects of the gumshoe trade.
The Institute for Justice Texas Chapter (IJ-TX) is challenging the new law and the Board’s actions under the Texas Constitution. IJ-TX filed a lawsuit in Travis County against the Board on behalf of Texas computer repair technicians and their customers on June 26, 2008.
“We would have welcomed the July proposal as a step in the right direction,” said Matt Miller, IJ-TX executive director and lead attorney on the case. “But the fact is there is still an absurd law on the books that says you have to be a government-licensed private eye to answer common customer questions about how a computer was damaged or used. That needs to change. We are disappointed the Board has again declined to make a clear statement that computer technicians do not need a private investigator’s license to address their customers’ concerns.”