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Texas bills address digital privacy

Amarillo, TX - Police in Texas can track cell phones and emails in criminal investigations - with or without a warrant.  and now state lawmakers are working to protect both police power and personal privacy.

Current Texas and federal law allows law enforcement to access GPS tracking data on cell phones without a warrant.  And a pair of bills in the state legislature would change that policy.

When law enforcement approaches an internet service provider for electronic data in the course of criminal investigation, they can only require it from in-state providers.  That makes it relatively easy to dodge jurisdiction.

Senate Bill 1052 would allow law enforcement to reach across state lines for that information, but would require a warrant to do so.  And House Bill 1608, an amendment to the first bill, would allow courts to refuse a warrant if doing so could have an adverse impact on a fair trial. 

"People have no idea that the problems this bill is going to fix are even going on," says Amarillo civil rights attorney Jeff Blackburn.  "They don't know that cops are going through their emails, cops are going through their cell phone contacts, and looking at them, but they are - without any check or balance of any kind."

Civil libertarians say an increasingly online society has more access to information, but less expectation of privacy, as Blackburn says,

"The more electronic we become, the less private we are.  And for all those folks that think Facebook really belongs to them - it doesn't; it belongs to everybody the minute you put something out there.  Civil liberties are on the decline because of the digitization of everybody: The more digital we become, the less privacy, and therefore, civil rights we have."

If you'd like to learn more about current law or the proposed changes to it, follow the links attached to this story.

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