Interview with Capt. RenEarl Bowie of Texas Private Security Bureau regarding Texas PI Licensing

Part three of a series.
Part One: Interview with Texas State Rep. Joe Driver
Part Two: Interview with Matt Miller, Institute for Justice
Part Three: Interview with Capt. RenEarl Bowie, Texas Private Security Bureau

Brian BoykoRecently, a posting on Slashdot linked to a story from PC Magazine called “Texas PC Repair Now Requires PI License.” Obviously, this story has gathered tons of attention, and if strictly true, would have a major impact on IT departments across the state, if not the nation.

Earlier, we posted a summary of the controversial law, HB 2833. We’ve also published interview with State Rep. Joe Driver, who authored HB 2833, and yesterday, we published an interview with Matt Miller of the Texas branch of the Institute for Justice, which is currently challenging the law in court.

Today we present an interview with Capt. RenEarl Bowie, of the Texas Private Security Bureau, regarding the Bureau’s interpretation of the law and policies towards PI licensing for computer and network techs:

Editor Brian Boyko, at NPD: First of all, could you tell me a little bit about who you are and what your position is?

Capt. RenEarl Bowie: Well, my name is RenEarl Bowie, I’m with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security Bureau, and I’m the Captain of that bureau.

NPD: This department basically determines who needs, and issues, Private Investigator licenses, is that correct?

Bowie: Well the responsibility of the Bureau is to regulate the private security industry. And, encompassed in that industry are individuals who are considered private investigators.

NPD: The big controversy seems to be that a lot of people in the computer industry are doing investigations which they don’t consider part of the private security industry, and it seems like there’s been a lot of press recently – very recently – about whether or not the day-to-day operations of a typical PC repairman or network tech would constitute private investigation under the law and therefore require a license.

Bowie: Right, and I think, Brian, based on what you’re saying, is that is what the intent and the spirit of the law is, under the Texas Occupations Code, 1702.104 [which] gives us a definition of what an investigation company is, and – you know, one thing you have to look at is when you read that particular statute, the interpretation is [that] the review of computer data for the purpose of investigating potential criminal or civil matters is a regulated activity under that code.

NPD: So could you give me a couple of examples as to what would be and what would not be covered under this law?

Bowie: A basic example would be an individual like a computer repairman who is providing computer repair or support services for a customer; normally that is not a regulated activity. But when an individual is performing work involving the review of computer data for the purpose of investigating criminal or civil matters, then they could fall under the 1701.104, which is considered an investigation company.

NPD: So, maybe I could give you a couple scenarios and you could help – maybe you could explain whether or not it would be covered. For example, let’s say there was a network engineer who is trying to find the root cause of a slowdown on the network, and in the course of investigating that, they discover that the root cause is some sort of criminal activity, such as a virus infection, or someone engaging in massive intellectual property violation, in other words “piracy,” something like that. Would they then require a private investigation license? Would they have to stop their investigation at that point?

Bowie: Based on the scenario you gave it sounds like they’re performing a repair or support service, and they’re not – the intent was not to go in and do an investigation, they are just collecting information that they found, and that doesn’t, based on that scenario, doesn’t rise to that level of an investigation.

NPD: What about a PC repairman who is being asked to check for viruses on a person’s computer?

Bowie: That does not rise to that level either.

NPD: What if a parent brought in a computer that they owned, but which is primarily used by a son or daughter, and they wanted to find out, say, the browsing history?

Bowie: That’s just considered normal computer repair or support service.

NPD: What wouldn’t be considered normal computer repair – can you give me a very specific example where that line is crossed?

Bowie: No, it’s – when you read into 1702.104, there is some interpretation there that you have to consider. I can’t give you a specific example, I could probably use some type of scenario in the sense of, for example, if an individual is contracted to come in and say, for example, investigate your computer at your company – you have employees there, and you believe identity theft has occurred, that there’s been some issues and you want this individual to come in, inspect the computers, you want them to come in, perform an investigation relating to the identity, the habits, the efficiency, movement, affiliations or locations or transactions and acts, or the character of a person, or the location and disposition of lost or stolen property, or some type of damage to the system, then I think you’re moving more towards the spirit of the law, and falling into an investigations company.

NPD: Okay, so once you get to that point – this is something that’s considered now to be routine is, if a person is suspected of – well, you could say a number of different things. Not just illegal activity but also perhaps, unauthorized use of the network – recreational network use – would that speak to the character of a person if they’re browsing YouTube at work, and an investigation is made to determine if someone is browsing YouTube at work?

Bowie: I think what you have to do is take those on a case-by-case basis, and do a thorough investigation into the matter to determine whether a violation of the code has occurred. You just have to keep in mind that every scenario and case is different, and you have to take it on a case-by-case basis, and use the utmost discretion.

NPD: What happens if for, whatever reason, someone is ignorant of the law and they violate the law accidentally – that they perform an investigation, and in their particular case, even though they didn’t intend to violate the law, they did? What happens then?

Bowie: Well, then again, it goes back to on a case-by-case basis, it involves good investigative work on behalf of the investigator looking into the matter, and then you have to evaluate what occurred, and what the individual knew, and what happened – and present the case to the court or to the prosecutor, if it even rises to that level.

NPD: Why do you think that this has been so controversial?

Bowie: As for as why it’s been so controversial? I believe that there are entities or individuals that just want clarification and to get some understanding in regards to the statute, and it just recently became known to the media in regards to the individuals who raised the question, and of course the law was passed last year, but it has just been brought to media attention here just recently.

NPD: Is there any way you can think of to clarify the law and the interpretation of the law even further, so that instead of having to rely on the case-by-case basis scenario, to really hammer that down, “yes this case would be considered a private investigation, and this case would not.”

Bowie: One thing individuals can do is they can definitely log on to our Web site, and when they get to the [Texas] Private Security Bureau Web site, there’s a spot on the Web site called Private Security Bureau Opinion Summaries, and you click on that, and it has some definitions and even examples and some clarifications of 1702, and individuals can click on that and it’ll definitely provide them with a lot of good information.

NPD: Well, thank you for speaking with us.

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One Response to Interview with Capt. RenEarl Bowie of Texas Private Security Bureau regarding Texas PI Licensing

  1. Benjamin Wright December 4, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    This Texas legislation is causing problems for robo-cop traffic enforcement. A Texas judge said the company running a red-light camera was acting illegally because it did not have a private investigator license. On the basis of this ruling, motorists are challenging traffic tickets. See deails: http://legal-beagle.typepad.com/wrights_legal_beagle/2008/12/e-discovery-forensics-private-investigator-license-for-computer-data-collection-and-assessment.html –Ben