The new Texas chapter of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a public law interest law firm that promotes economic liberty, is representing several computer repair professionals who are challenging a new provision that could force many of them to obtain private investigator licenses. Failure to do so is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

At issue is language from HB 2833, a bill last session that the Department of Public Safety Private Security Board said was its “cleanup legislation.” Texas law already required a private investigator’s license if a person “engages in the business of obtaining or furnishing, or accepts employment to obtain or furnish, information related to the identity, habits, business, occupation, knowledge, efficiency, loyalty, movement, location, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a person.” HB 2833 added language specifying that “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.”

IJ says computer repair services have been put on notice by the Board that the new language includes routine services like cleaning out the cache on a customer’s computer, because such data is not available to the public. In order to qualify for a license to do such work, computer repair professionals would have to either obtain a criminal justice degree or complete a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed private investigator.

The Private Security Board is the same agency that expelled thousands of locksmiths, many due to a minor misdemeanor conviction decades ago. Now it has objected to the Sunset Advisory Commission‘s recommendation that it be given discretion to review these cases individually, instead of the automatic denials required under another provision the Board sought in HB 2833. Perhaps this litigation will help ensure that capitalism is not criminalized under the guise of protecting public safety.

– Marc Levin