An Overview of 2019 Technology Policy in the Texas Legislature

The Texas Legislature meets every odd-numbered year in the city of our headquarters – Austin. We are excited to track technology policy development in the 2019 session. We hope to see several bills pass that move our state forward in terms of keeping policy up to speed with innovation. This year we are particularly focused on bills submitted in the areas of stingray technology, drone surveillance and cybersecurity.

Warrants and Cell Site Simulators

So far this session, a couple of bills have been submitted regarding law enforcement’s use of cell site simulators and cell site information. Some people refer to these simulators as stingrays. “Stingray” is a brand name and a commonly used term for IMSI catchers, a type of cell site simulator. Law enforcement has long been using these devices to intercept mobile calls and collect location data without adequate regulations on how and when they can be used. We are excited to see bills this session related to regulating the use of cell site simulators. However, HB 352 and 353 provide limited definitions and do not describe how the devices work or how they are configured by law enforcement. HB 352 does not distinguish between the different types of cell site location information. In short, the bills in their current state lack technical specificity and do not provide enough privacy protection for innocent people.

Increasing State Cybersecurity Measures

There are several bills this session that would boost the state’s cybersecurity efforts. SB 76 and HB 400 aim to establish a “Grid Security Council” that would oversee cybersecurity of our state’s electrical grid. This is essential given increased awareness of Russia’s ability to hack our infrastructure. Last year, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security announced Russian government actors hacked into energy, nuclear, water and critical manufacturing sectors. Last July, they announced Russian hackers had infiltrated utility control rooms where they could have thrown switches if they chose to do so. Russia aside, it has become painfully obvious our industrial IoT and infrastructure are vulnerable. In addition to cybersecurity, the council would evaluate security vulnerabilities in relation to physical threats and weather threats.

SB 64 enhances cybersecurity measures in several ways. It calls for incentives for institutions of higher education that develop degree programs in cybersecurity. It also classifies cybersecurity events as “disasters” which allows for the use of government resources. The bill provides assistance to small agencies and local governments to manage information security and treats the electrical grid as a state agency for cybersecurity purposes. We highly support this bill because it enables the state to properly respond to increasing cybersecurity threats.

Drones, Amazon and Home Delivery

SB 59 would allow commercial drones to capture images for the purposes of delivering consumer goods (i.e. Amazon). The bill allows delivery companies to capture images for the purposes of navigation and public safety. While it is exciting to think about having goods delivered to our homes by drones, this bill is concerning because there are no limitations on the post-operational use of these images. Companies that capture these images could monetize them after use, further contributing to privacy invasion and surveillance capitalism.

Surveillance in Day Care Centers

HB 459 would mandate video surveillance in all day care centers around the state. The bill is well-intentioned, and many parents feel safer knowing a facility has video surveillance as an extra security measure. The problem with this bill is that it does not address the potential harms that could come from improper management of these videos. Most video surveillance systems have built-in Internet connectivity, making them easily hackable and shared by malicious actors online. There are no measures in this bill that would require a higher standard of security for these cameras. The bill also does not specify how these video archives would be managed and safely stored.

Promoting Government Transparency

We are happy to see HB 318, a bill that promotes government transparency, requiring all state agencies receiving more than $40 million in appropriations to live stream their meetings. Transparency is a problem across state governments in the U.S., with only three states scoring higher than a “D” in transparency, according to a study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity. Texas was rated a D minus largely due to lack of public access to information and lack of accountability. HB 318 would allow the public to better understand state government issues and processes.

Learn more about technology bills currently under consideration in the Texas legislature.

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