In Riley v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized following arrest. The Court reasoned that cell phones are different from other kinds of things people carry on their persons. Your cell phone is like a detailed diary that can reveal highly personal information going back years. It makes sense, that the Court concluded, to give cell phones extra protection by requiring a warrant. The case got us thinking about privacy protections generally. So what’s the law here in Texas? Last legislative session in Texas, over 100 members of the House signed on as co-authors or co-sponsors to legislation requiring law enforcement officers to get a search warrant prior to accessing location data from your cell phone company. Currently, law enforcement requests this personal information via a secret subpoena process. Location data can reveal what church you attend, what political and social groups you belong to, if you are married or having an affair, what bars you frequent, and many other personal details. In many ways, Texas legislators were grappling with the same issues the Supreme Court dealt with in Riley. Because so much data is collected and stored by wireless devices and other electronics, our policymakers are faced with important questions about how to update the law to protect our privacy and 4th amendment rights. Here are the 4 things you should know about electronic privacy in Texas:

1. Texas has not yet passed protections for your cell phone location data.

The bill from last session stalled at the end of session.

2. However, our state passed important protections for your email in an amendment to another bill.

The amendment requires a search warrant for government access to stored communications..

3. In the upcoming legislative session, the ACLU of Texas as part of the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition will again advocate for warrant protections for your location information.

We will also advocate for regulation of automatic license plate readers and Stingray devices that collect cell phone location data via a dummy cell tower.

4. We can have Texas solutions to privacy problems instead of waiting for the federal government to act.

When it comes to updating privacy protections, we have every opportunity to be ahead of the game. Important updates to state law can work in concert with today’s Supreme Court opinion and federal efforts to curtail NSA spying via the USA Freedom Act. Texans want a government that does not spy on it’s residents. Let’s lead the way in updating our laws to ensure our privacy is protected and the 4th amendment remains a living, breathing protection for us all.

Stay informed

ACLU of Texas is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National