A Texas law passed in 2007 has computer repair shops statewide up in arms. Seemingly pressured by the Private Investigator lobby, lawmakers enacted House Bill 2833, which seems to require computer repair personnel to obtain a Private Investigator license before being allowed to work on customers' computers.
The relevant sections of the law in question (from http://www.legis.sta.../HB02833F.htm):
"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:
(B) the identity, habits, business, occupation, knowledge, efficiency, loyalty, movement, location, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a person;
(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."
According to a lawsuit initiated by the newly-established Texas Chapter of the Institute for Justice, the Texas Private Security Board, a state agency, is interpreting this as including simple computer repairs such as malware removal.
The law provides for punishment of up to one year in jail and $4,000 in fines, and up to $10,000 in civil penalties. Additionally, any customer knowingly enlisting the help of an unlicensed computer repair person (that is, without a PI license) is subject to the same punishment.
Matt Miller, Texas Institute for Justice Executive Director and lead attorney on the case, notes that "it makes no sense to require a computer repairman with 10 or 20 years of experience to get a degree in criminal justice just to continue working in his occupation. This law will drive up the price of computer repair for everyone, and that’s exactly what the private investigations industry wants."
For many small computer repair shops, this law would mean having to shut down their business until they acquire a license. To get a PI license, one needs either a criminal justice degree (with all associated costs) or a three-year apprenticeship under a licensed PI. Neither are realistic options for most small computer repair shops.
While it remains to be seen how this law will be interpreted by the TPSB and the courts, it sure is reopening the discussion about whether or not computer repair workers should be certified, and how. Computer repair is one of only a handful of professions that do not need certification in order to operate a business.