Repair A Computer In Texas Without A License And Face A Year In Jail

from the ridiculous-laws dept

Here’s a bizarre one sent in by Syborg1404. It turns out that it’s against the law in Texas to repair a computer without a private investigator’s license. Specifically, the law requires anyone who is repairing a customer’s computer by analyzing data on the computer to have a private eye’s license — which only takes three years as an apprentice or to earn a criminal justice degree. This isn’t just an out-of-date law still on the books either. It was passed last year, though it’s now being contested as unconstitutional. While it does not appear that anyone’s been charged under the law, computer repair technicians used to cleaning spyware and viruses off of computers in Texas are reasonably worried.

To be honest, this whole thing sounds like garden variety protectionism, similar to state laws that required people selling goods on eBay to spend a year or more to get an auctioneer’s license. These laws aren’t about protecting consumers, but about limiting the number of competitors in the market itself. Hopefully Texas gets rid of it before someone is fined and tossed in jail for cleaning spyware out of someone’s computer.

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Comments on “Repair A Computer In Texas Without A License And Face A Year In Jail”

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69 Comments
DavidM (profile) says:

It's about protecting Private Investigator Jobs

If I recall correctly, this law (and others similar to it) has its roots in who can legally investigate the contents of a computer and testify in a court of law. Licensed investigators were getting bypassed and losing money because lawyers were hiring other expert witnesses, a lot cheaper and possibly more experienced in the field. The argument was made that expert witnesses for investigative work should be licensed to perform investigative work.

Sopor42 says:

“Specifically, the law forbids anyone who is repairing a customer’s computer by analyzing data on the computer to get a private eye’s license”

This was mis-written, right? You must have meant require instead of forbid:

“Specifically, the law REQUIRES anyone who is repairing a customer’s computer (by analyzing data on the computer) to get a private eye’s license”

Me says:

Goodbye, volunteer tech support!

So much for cleaning crapware off all the grannies’ and grampas’ computers that my church steers my way… oh, and so much for maintaining THEIR network. I guess that all of the above will just have to use social security checks and donations to pay the $100.00 – 300.00 per visit that the Geek Squad charges to clean and maintain computers.

http://www.geeksquad.com/services/category.aspx?id=231

Nice going.

~ Me
Somewhere in Texas

Me says:

Re: Re: Goodbye, volunteer tech support!

I don’t know – never had that problem. You’ll have to check their website 😀

So I guess the next thing is that accountants will have to have P.I. license to see a customer’s financial records. A trained accountant will know very quickly if the customer is doing something shady.

I want to know just what the heck a PI is going to do when he or she runs into a situation that requires a COMPUTER FORENSICS expert, eh? Same thing as me, with my dinky A+ cert and BS in Information Technology… go “hands off” and call in the REAL experts.

~ Me

Brandon says:

Re: Man

I’ll put it to you like this. If you were my next door neighbor, and 2 guys came out of my house, with all of my valuables in a sack, and you saw them and DIDN’T shoot at them, I’d kick your ass.

Anyone who is willing to break into a person’s home and steal thier cherished and valuable belongings, for any reason, is a worthless waste of skin and bones and doesn’t deserve the to breathe same air and enjoy the same sunshine as the rest of us. I’m not sayinh they should die, but if they lose a leg or an arm, or end up in intensive care for a week or so, you won’t see me crying for ’em.

These days everyone’s too caught up in caring about everyone else, when the fact is most people, especially these 2 guys, didn’t give a fat shit about you or the person they robbed and never would have, had they lived, so why should you care what misfortunes befall them?

asdf says:

Who cares, like anyone is going to turn someone else in for taking spyware off their computer. IF thats even really what the law is stating.

I believe DavidM.

This article wherever it came from was probably taken out of context by some college students.

Its like no one will turn you in if you knock off a terrorist….ok bad example.. 😛

Anonymous Coward says:

Having found no law journal articles or law blog articles concerning this law strongly suggests that the spectre being raised by public interest group as it pertains to repairing computers is virtually all hype and no substance.

BTW, I have read the law and can well understand why it has not become the topic of discussion among attorneys concerning the mere repair of computers.

Jason says:

Mas, you're better than this

The Texas Occupations Code, Subchapter F is the section in question.

The statement by the UT reporter, “According to the law passed in the 2007 Texas legislative session, the private investigator’s license is required for repair technicians to analyze their customers’ computer data.” is completely misrepresenting the facts. Don’t even go to the Institute for Justice article on this. It’s a farce.

Even a cursory read will tell you that there’s no such law. Just because 1702.104(b)says is that electronic information/analysis is included in the definition of information for 1702.104(a) doesn’t mean that it’s not still 100% qualified by paragraphs A-D which are all forms of investigative work.

Nutshell: if a repair person is hired to sift through a hard drive to snoop on someone or investigate a crime or civil dispute, then yeah, they’re doing de facto investigative work just as if they were beating the street. A computer repair person simply analyzing data is NOT liable unless they’re analyzing data for an investigation.

Now, go back and read the university newspaper again. Does it actually cite an instance where an repair person was prosecuted for acting as an investigator? What is the actual story here? Seriously follow the link and read it.

Here’s how it reads to me, plain and simple:

Some watchdog group went around contacting repair people and saying, “Did you know that you MIGHT get prosecuted (on a completely ridiculous technicality that we just made up)? Doesn’t that bother you? Would you like us to sue the ridiculously inculpable Texas Private Security Board for the actions of the Texas State Legislature? You would? Great!”

There are no other facts here.
Was someone suing Rife? Not mentioned.
Was Rife being prosecuted in any Texas jurisdiction? Not mentioned.
Was anybody suing anybody over this? No mention. Was any computer repair person anywhere facing charges over this? Not mentioned.

It’s just some group being both hyper-technical and hyper-wrong about what the law might possibly say, but in reality actually doesn’t.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, but frankly you could have gone to public school and still not screwed it up as bad as the Texas chapter of the “Institute for Justice.”

Someone says:

Re: Mas, you're better than this

Lets just say I work in law enforcement and we actually had our own IT personell arrested for operating without a license. We didn’t know he needed one. Department of Public Safety has specific people assigned to investigate these issues and believe me without warning they will show up at your door and arrest you when they have enought evidence against you. Our department was upset that they didnt even notify us to let us know our IT was possibly facing charges so we could’ve at least told him to get his license before continuing to work with us.

Me says:

More links

For a little gloatfest by Private Investigator News and Information:
http://www.asginvestigations.com/pi-stories/?p=201

(making much of how well protected citizens are going to be, now that we nogoodnik techies won’t be competing with them)

and from the… ahem… horse’s… mouth.

http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/psb/docs/psb_opin_sum.pdf

from the PDF:
“Computer repair or support services should be aware that if they offer to perform investigative services, such as assisting a customer with solving a computer-related crime, they must be licensed as investigators.”

So in short, if I help one of my customers solve the computer-related crime of distributing malware and spam, I’m breaking the law. I’m not “solving” it by trying to find a culprit, although I may see some interesting stuff while I’m deep in the software guts of the system, running the fixes. I’m “solving” it by getting it the heck off their systems.

And what about the system administrators whose JOB it is to provide network security? Are they going to shut down my workplace for the next three years, while they all get PI-certified? Given that it’s a government installation, this could actually be amusing.

~ Me

Jason says:

Re: More links

So in short, if I help one of my customers solve the computer-related crime of distributing malware and spam, I’m breaking the law.
No. Information specific to the kind and extent of damage done during the crime isn’t substantial to the fact of the crime.

I mean if a guy took a baseball bat to my window, is the window guy ‘acting as an investigator’ by checking and saying, “Yep, window’s broke.” (oh please help the pun.)

And what about the system administrators whose JOB it is to provide network security?”
Unrelated. The ‘computer-based’ data verbiage only applies to 1702.104 (a)(1), which has nothing to do with security agencies.

Me says:

Re: Re: More links

Ah, but what if, in looking through your broken window, the window guy sees cannabis plants in the corner and a water pipe on the table? The window guy should have a PI license, because he might see something incriminating.

So should the auto mechanic, just in case you forget and leave the body in your trunk…

Seriously, here’s a slightly better question. What if your window guy determines in the course of his investigation that the window contained regular glass, instead of the bulletproof glass you paid for? He has stumbled across sensitive information that leaves the installer of the window vulnerable to civil suit. Should he have to hire a PI to tell you this? What does the PI know about glass?

As for the system administrators, I should have said it’s “part” of their job to provide security. They maintain the system, install and run security, database and backup software, handle technical support, and yes, they do investigate security breaches. They do it in order to close the holes, but I assure you that if it was deliberately caused, the offender will face disciplinary action. They will analyze whatever files are necessary to close the security hole. And there’s not a PI in the bunch… they do have a pile of rules to wade through, and agreements to sign, but a PI license isn’t one of the requirements.

I understand that the overall issue is one of due process, and not having something that a computer tech turns up being improperly used to prosecute an individual. There’s probably a secondary intent of not having the techie muck up the evidence. The reasoning appears to be that only qualified investigators should provide the kind of analysis that impacts a person’s career (or freedom). However, the Tx PSB’s description is too comprehensive, and doesn’t make sense, even when applied strictly to a court of law. What good would a PI have done in the Amero case, for instance? The “expert” called in by the prosecution didn’t even know the difference between deliberate surfing of a site and malicious pop-ups.

http://www.securityfocus.com/columnists/434/

I think it makes more sense for a PI to procure IT forensics certification in order to present incriminating analyses of computer data, rather than for a technician get 3 years of PI training, in order to track down the source of that pesky trojan, troubleshoot a customer’s software issues by examining files, or back up/migrate a user’s personal data from one computer to another at their request. All of the above could lead to me seeing sensitive information.

When a customer is referred to me with a problem, I don’t know whether I’m going to be swapping out a CMOS battery or analyzing their files to see what stinker they managed to find and inadvertently install, this time. Why do I need three years of EXTRA training, in order to know to call the cops if I see possible evidence of illegal activity?

Given that all of my tech support is pro bono (other IT fields pay better) for family, friends, church and their referrals, mandating a 3-year cert just means that my support will stop.

~ Me

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: More links

This is an analogy. This is only an analogy. If the story you just read actually made sense to you it would have been followed by men in white coats invading your house.

Quit anal-ogizing and just read the frickin law. There’s absolutely nothing in there about what a repair person might see. It’s strictly if part of the job when the deal was made included the investigation.

Oh help me, but I’ll succumb to the analogy one last time. IF and ONLY IF you had told this poor over analyzed window guy to snoop into the room so as to investigate to see whether or not there was weed in the room, AND ONLY THEN IF he actually agreed to do the snooping – and after all since the story is retarded, so also the character must be – THEN AND ONLY then is your window guy going to need a PI license.

But you obviously have first hand experience with the aforementioned weed scenario, and far too much based upon what I read in your post.

Me says:

Re: Re: Re:2 More links

Keep in mind, the poor, abused window guy was not my creation.

As for the weed scenario – Nice personal attack. Not that it’s relevant, but the only mind-altering substance I indulge in is caffeine. Granted, LOTS of caffeine.

If your intent is to find out WHY something is happening, in addition to fixing the problem, you are performing an investigation.

To put it into an innocent context, if malware keeps returning because an employee isn’t properly educated in the use of email and instant messaging, then you want to track it down and provide some remedial instruction, even if the employee is embarrassed by it. I’ve run into this situation, and tried to make the discussion as non-threatening as possible. However, should an employee feel threatened and file suit, this Code would be a logical part of their attack.

My “anal-ogizing” is nothing, compared to the twists and turns taken by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

I know I’m not going to convince you, and you’re not going to convince me, so I’m outtahere for now. Time for another cup of coffee.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 More links

Keep in mind, the poor, abused window guy was not my creation.

Well, there you go. You’re right about that. Now we’ve both conceded a point.

My “anal-ogizing” is nothing, compared to the twists and turns taken by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Taken? Has this already been tried? If so, then we’re talking about something altogether different. Odd that none of the articles reported on it. That would be strong supportive detail, and would actually form a real story.

Look, I think you’re right that we’re approaching an impasse. I certainly understand where you’re coming from. My point is simply that the claim that Texas has (as though this were actual and not suppositional) somehow outlawed PC repair for non-PIs is a huge misstatement, and that the law will most likely never result in what IS arguably (though I strongly doubt) a loophole – certainly a needless one if there is. Fair enough?

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 More links

Oh also, no personal attack intended. The implication, however mis-fired, was intended to be that your argument was on weed. I’m sure you’re very nice.

As for the innocent context, you’re right it is innocent, but I’m pretty comfortable that it’s covered by the availability clause (also weak, but also good enough).

I’m off to drink some very effeminate herbal tea, wishing it was another cup of coffee (but at least I’ll maybe finally get some sleep) – Kind regards, Anonymous Jason

Jake says:

I can actually see some logic to this as long as nobody is going to try and argue that installing and running an anti-malware program counts as ‘analysing data’; it’s presumably aimed at situations where a software engineer is working with sensitive data, like on a bank’s database for example. But why mandate a PI license? There is presumably a process in place for background and criminal record checks.

Me says:

Re: @Jake

Again, an accountant doesn’t have to have a PI license, and they’re much more deeply involved with actual data than I am. As you all probably know, we generally see some incidental data while we’re engaged in cleaning/repair; the accountant actually engages with and manipulates that data.

This whole thing is just silly.

~ Me

Jake says:

Re: Re: @Jake

I never said I agreed with the logic, just that I could see why someone might have thought this was a good idea; whilst they might have less contact with the data as part of their normal job responsibilities, a field technician has largely unrestricted and sometimes unsupervised access to the hardware itself. Getting an actual job in the firm you wish to target has got to be the ultimate social engineering attack method.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a good solution, at least not as described in the original newspaper article. But the problem it’s trying to solve is real.

Mort says:

I predict

Soon, most computer users in Texas will be going to Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma to get their computers repaired, because there won’t be any small computer repair places in Texas. None of the small shops will stay in business, because they’ll run afoul of this poorly thought-out law, probably by accident. Texas will be left with Geek Squad, for about $300 per visit.

Analysis of computer-based data for the purposes of discovering information related to the causes of an event or an individual’s conduct requires licensing. Mere scanning, retrieval, and reproduction of data associated with electronic discovery or litigation support services do not. Since network intrusion consultants and penetration testers have potential access to their clients’ confidential information, these professionals must be licensed.

So, according to the Texas Private Security Board, if you perform penetration testing (for the company you work for, or as a consultant, maybe even on your own network), you must have a PI license.

PIs must be the equivalent of doctors in Texas. Why isn’t there at least the requirement for such PIs to have, at the very least, A+ certification?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I predict

Analysis of computer-based data for the purposes of discovering information related to the causes of an event or an individual’s conduct requires licensing.

I live in Texas and I was analyzing the event log of one our company’s computers just yesterday to find out why it was crashing. Wait a minute, someone’s knocking at my door…

Jason says:

Re: I predict

So, according to the Texas Private Security Board, if you perform penetration testing (for the company you work for, or as a consultant, maybe even on your own network), you must have a PI license.

Seriously, RTFL! Quit quoting someone’s half-accurate comments on the law and just read the law. No aspect of basic computer repair and maintenance requires this license. The linked articles that say it does are just flat-assed wrong.

What is it Ze Frank says? “Thinking so you don’t have to.”

Me says:

Re: Re: I predict

I did. Repeatedly. As I said, it’s not hard to see what the intent is, but it’s way too comprehensive, and open to misinterpretation. Fife is right to be concerned. Here’s the relevant part of the “FL”:

***
The review of computer data for the purpose of investigating potential criminal or civil matters is a regulated activity under Chapter 1702 of the Texas Occupations Code, as is offering to perform such services.

Section 1702.102 provides as follows:

§1702.104. Investigations Company

(a) A person acts as an investigations company for the purposes of this chapter if the person:

(1) engages in the business of obtaining or furnishing, or accepts employment to obtain or furnish, information related to:
Revised 06-25-08


(C) the location, disposition, or recovery of lost or stolen property; or

(D) the cause or responsibility for a fire, libel, loss, accident, damage, or injury to a person or to property;

(b) For purposes of subsection (a)(1), obtaining or furnishing information includes information obtained or furnished through the review and analysis of, and the investigation into the content of, computer-based data not available to the public.

Please be aware that providing or offering to provide a regulated service without a license is a criminal offense. TEX. OCC. CODE §§1702.101, 1702.388. Employment of an unlicensed individual who is required to be licensed is also a criminal offense. TEX. OCC. CODE §1702.386.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I predict

And that’s what the judge will say…

The Judge is likely to say that the law means just what it says and if the legislature wanted it to mean something else they would have written something else.

…except that you’ll never see this come before a criminal court in the state of Texas because DAs need low-priced PC support more than anyone.

Really? I’d venture to say that most DAs have larger budgets than most computer technicians. What they really need and want is convictions.

Concession accepted. Havuhnizday

I think you should reread his comment.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I predict

Well, good thing there aren’t any VC firms ponying up lately because your venture sucks. Sure some big city DAs conviction to budget needs are about a thousand to one, but most of those are really too savvy to want to cook their rep over a pile of human waste. They didn’t get stuck working for a non-profit that has to constantly bone-up business to justify grants and salaries.

The remaining vast majority work teeny weeny county seats across the state and double as their own administrators, and really care a lot about their budget because when that one huge important case comes up they still have to fork out just as much for expert witnesses as the big towns, and a comparison to the budget of a computer tech is wildly irrelevant and stupid, and that’s not really the point either, as much as it is that this supposed problem is really insignificant in the first place, and in the second I wasn’t genteelly accepting a concession, I was hi-jacking it to say that reasonable still has to mean reasonable because judges don’t like being overturned in ways that make them look stupid, and I don’t care that this is a run-on sentence either. Good night, and good luck.

Saigon ZOGG says:

..Repair A Computer In Texas Without A License And Face A Year In Jail

THAT IS THE MOST STUPID, ASS-BRAINED THING I’VE EVER HEARD OF!! I’m an IT Consultant. Not a PI. Unless of course, you want caffeine crazed, sleep-deprived IT techs packin’ heat. Cause you know we would. Heh-heh-heh….For the last time! RTFM! I Said RTFM! RTFM! AAHRRRRR!! ..Yeah, I can see it now. It was that last PEBKAC and ID-10-T errors that did it. Right?

Agonizing Fury says:

That means...

This is a great law! the way I’m reading it, it would now be against the law for a computer repair guy to report you to the MPAA/RIAA/etc. for all those bootleg movies, songs and software on your computer. Also, wouldn’t that make it illegal to report your boss to the BSA for pirating software at work? Maybe you can use the “million dollars” for your own legal fees

Rick in Texas says:

Wake up

I absolutely love all the wannabe lawyer types with their irrelevant opinions. It is common knowledge that laws are not always applied as intended. All it takes is one prosecutor to decide he can use the law to get YOU and all your opinions go right out this window everyone keeps talking about. For example, I don’t think in his wildest dreams did Al Capone believe he was gonna get nabbed for tax evasion. Why would anyone think that taxes are owed on illegal income? Yet, nab him they did, all it took was an imaginative prosecutor.

RB (user link) says:

Re: Wake up

This is exactly why I went to find an answer even though I don’t live in Texas. My brother in Texas said that he thought I was taking the law too literally and that they wouldn’t prosecute a PC repair guy under this law. I told him that he had never had the privilege as a small business person to have an overzealous prosecutor looking to make a name for himself come after his business under the guise of some obscure/obtuse reading of a law.

I have and it’s not fun or cheap. Anyway, I’ve posted one Texas legislators response to this issue over at liberaljesus.com

It’s a silver lining on a rather murky issue.

Ron Radford (user link) says:

House Bill 2833 - State of Texas

This law is probably the result of investigation lobby paying the bill’s sponsor to make a bs law that only benefit the investigation companies.
How?
If you ask a pc tech to find out about any computer, they could do it.
The person making the request does not have to go through an investigation company!
This really matters in big law suit cases where millions of dollars are being spent, BUT NOT TO THE INVESTIGATION COMPANIES! Instead a regular pc tech is getting a cut of their money!
If I’m wrong, then explain a better reason.
I’m a IT professional that specializes in PC Repair and On-site support. I have been asked by parents, supervisors and owners of computers to tell me what or who is being done to their computer.
This would be the same as going to the car mechanic and he couldnt tell you what’s wrong with the car because someone may have driven it and caused damage!

Ren says:

Law is crazy

A friend sent me the link to the daily Texan, my husband and I own our own computer repair company, so I researched this further. The law was passed in Sept 2007 but it’s only getting more attention now. I found a few links to the actual law, that is still pretty borderline but it says it’s specific for the IT people that go into computers to specifically look for evidence of any sort of malpractice that will be used in a court of law. Most of the law is not very specific, which worries me and I’m sure a lot of other business owners. There are a lot of lawyers fighting this right now for the reason that all the information is borderline. It’s pretty much saying if you remove spyware you’re ok but if you look into who specifically might have gotten the spyware, you’re crossing the line. Which serves as a problem when you work for a bunch of doctors like we do.

Texan IT (user link) says:

Texas Computer Service

This law is going to put many computer technicians out of business for doing what they do best. This law was heavily pushed for by lobbyists for private investigators. In the past years computers have become increasingly important to private investigation and made a Private investigators job obsolete. This is their attempt at legislating their completely obsolete industry back into the picture. Let computer technicians do their work. Private investigators are not computer technicians and they are clueless when it comes to computer crimes and computer security. Let computer technicians do their work and quit making up laws to legitimize obsolete industries. Cleaning up computers is best done by computer technicians and not private investigators. My business does not investigate computer crimes but we do Texas computer service and computer repairs and will continue to do so.

True Color Tech (user link) says:

Computer Service In General

While I agree there should be some level of standard in the repair of computers, there are allot of potentially stupid customers out there that just aren’t willing to pay for computer service. Would a plumber come to your house for less than $100, they get near the same level of certification as Computer Repair techs. If they want to pay for it sure licensing is the way to go, if you don’t you can’t really complain about the level of education the tech has. Interesting they made it law.

DEBPRATIM GHOSH says:

Aliens Come

Then end of the World is coming on 20 dec 2012. A burning planet named Nibiru is coming towards Earth and it will reach by 2012. So as it reaches too near the Earth the earth will be burnt by the heat of the burning planet and Earth will be destroyed.

But I think that life will reborn in earth with a new shape and with a new civilization with different creatures. The earth is simply like a movie show to the Aliens who created us for the same reason. And the end of the movie comes on the date of 2012. After that a new movie begins….

Office 365 Support (user link) says:

Im impressed, I should say. Pretty rarely do I come across a blog thats each informative and entertaining, and let me let you know, youve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is significant; the problem is some thing that not sufficient men and women are talking intelligently about. Im seriously happy that I stumbled across this in my search for one thing relating to this issue.

<b><a href="http://office-365-support.com“>Office 365 Support<a>

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