Citing concerns that it would be violating citizens' privacy, the Texas attorney general's office has dropped its request for detailed records from two companies that provided Internet access to members of the Republic of Texas separatist group.
"We made a decision to rescind those requests for the information we had asked for," Ward Tisdale, a spokesman for the attorney general, said today. "There were some privacy concerns brought to our attention."
W. Scott McCollough, the attorney who had fought the request for records on the group's Internet activity--including copies of email and logs of site visitors--said the office "realized they blundered into a heck of a dilemma. I think they did not realize the practical effect of what they were doing."
The attorney general's office had requested the information from ten Texas ISPs in its effort to obtain information about the rebel group during its recent standoff with authorities.
Eight of them complied, but two--the Overland Network and Internet Texoma--refused to turn over any information and filed lawsuits against the attorney general in an attempt to block the request, citing the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, McCollough said.
But the story does not end with the state's reversal. McCollough said he won't drop the lawsuits until he's assured that the attorney general's office won't again ask for records to which he says they're not entitled.
"I will be reluctant to dismiss these cases unless we have some pretty firm understandings about what will happen with regards to further demands for information."
McCollough added that he's concerned that the attorney general's office still possesses information supplied by the eight other Texas ISPs.
"This information is under seal. We have not looked at it, and we don't intend to look at it," Tisdale said. He added that the information probably would be destroyed or returned to the ISPs.
That was little comfort to McCollough, who was concerned that the ISPs turned over the information at all. "They say they haven't peeked yet, but the bottom line is you can't put the genie back in the bottle, They have already disclosed, even if nobody looked. They blew it absolutely."
As far as the state is concerned, McCollough wants it to pay for his fees and for the time it took his clients to comb their logs. Even though they didn't turn anything over, they had to catalog the information, he said, efforts that cost about $15,000.