Texas Law Probably Does Not Require PI License To Fix Spyware-Infested Computers

Dries Janssens, a computer repair shop owner in Allen, Texas, is worried that a 2007 law passed by the state legislature requires computer repair technicians to have private investigator licenses to perform “simple computer repairs such as malware removal.” We’re not sure if the law was just badly written or written on purpose at the urging of the state’s private investigator lobby (which Janssens suggests), but it certainly seems like a bad idea. Update: according to this article sent by our weekend editor Carey, it’s just badly written (“It needs some tightening up,” says one lawmaker) and should only apply to the private security industry.

Here’s Janssens’ take on the law:

According to a lawsuit initiated by the newly-established Texas Chapter of the Institute for Justice, the Texas Private Security Board, a state agency, is interpreting this as including simple computer repairs such as malware removal.

The law provides for punishment of up to one year in jail and $4,000 in fines, and up to $10,000 in civil penalties. Additionally, any customer knowingly enlisting the help of an unlicensed computer repair person (that is, without a PI license) is subject to the same punishment.

Matt Miller, Texas Institute for Justice Executive Director and lead attorney on the case, notes that “it makes no sense to require a computer repairman with 10 or 20 years of experience to get a degree in criminal justice just to continue working in his occupation. This law will drive up the price of computer repair for everyone, and that’s exactly what the private investigations industry wants.”

Janssens points out that “to get a PI license, one needs either a criminal justice degree (with all associated costs) or a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed PI.”

But the Daily Times says repair technicians’ fears are unfounded, and that the lawsuit is in part a publicity stunt by the organization that filed it:

The author of the bill, Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, told the Houston Chronicle that computer techs are misinterpreting the law and that the lawsuit is simply a publicity stunt by The Institute for Justice.

The lawsuit marked the launch of the group’s Texas chapter.

Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, agreed the new law probably is being misread.

“It needs some tightening up and some clarification, but I have been assured that they will be very cautious about enforcing it,” Hilderbran said. “(Driver’s) intent was that this rule only be used when analyzing data for investigative purposes.”

An e-mail sent to Hilderbran from DPS states that “only computer forensics officials must be licensed under the Private Security Act” and that those who only retrieve information from computer databases and pass it on to another person are not subject to the new law.

We just can’t get over the idea of Geek Squad members all carrying around P.I. badges. Beyond the obvious concerns that over-eager Geek Squadders will abuse their power to, um, “privately investigate,” the Texas Best Buy stores will have to remodel their in-store zones to provide a door with a frosted glass window for customers to walk through.

“Geek Squad, P.I.? Computer Repair Uproar in Texas” [ITPlanet.com] (Thanks to CaptZ!)
“Computer techs fight private-investigator law” [Daily Times]
(Photo: Joost Assink)