Monday, July 07, 2008

With This Bill, The Wrong People Were In the Driver's Seat

An editorial in today's Dallas Morning News points out how the law of unintended consequences has reared its ugly head again--this time with a bill that was sponsored by my own state representative, Joe Driver. (And if that name sounds more befitting of a cartoon character, get this: Not only did Joe Driver author a bill that put added restrictions on teen drivers, he also sells State Farm auto insurance as his day job. I couldn't make this kind of stuff up if I tried.)

Anyway, Rep. Driver's bill meant to deal with the licensing of private investigators. But the unintended consequence is that it also requires all computer repair professionals to obtain a private investigator's license!
With apparently minimal knowledge of how computers work, Mr. Driver won unanimous approval of a require licensing for any professional who obtains or furnishes information "through the review and analysis of, and investigation into the content of, computer-based data not available to the public."
Somehow, this little technicality managed to slip by not only Rep. Driver, but the rest of the Legislature, as well as Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the bill into law.

Could they really all be this clueless? Apparently so...
Mr. Driver said he never expected that such vague language would apply to computer repairers. "We don't want them to be prosecuted," he said. "That's not the intent." Yet he expressed confusion when told that computer repair, at a minimum, involves turning on a computer and reviewing its contents – data – to find the source of most common problems, like viruses.
OK; that's just goofy. But will the law be enforced? You bet it will:
The Department of Public Safety's Private Security Bureau has made clear it will go after computer repairers – especially if they are hired to determine why all this Internet porn is popping up on Grandma's hard drive or why an office worker is visiting prohibited Web sites.

"Computer repair or support services should be aware that if they offer to perform investigative services ... they must be licensed as investigators," the Private Security Bureau said last month. If you hire an unlicensed computer repairer, you could be fined up to $10,000.
But none of that is the most troubling aspect of the story. This is:
"This is language we got specifically from the industry," he said of the private investigators' lobby that wrote his bill, HB 2833.
Got that? The lobbyists wrote the bill. Heaven help us all...

I've never really been a fan of lobbying, period; part of me would like to see it outlawed. There are plenty of ways for legislators to do research on a subject without being solicited by the very people who would potentially be regulated by new legislation. At a minimum, I think it should be illegal for lobbyists to provide anything of value to a legislator, be it a meal or even a single cocktail. Even if it's innocent, it just looks dirty from the outside.

Read the whole thing; it'll take quite a while to fix this mess, I'm sure. And to Rep. Driver: Do your homework next time, please. Your job is too important to let others do the heavy lifting for you.

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