Texas restricts civilian drone usage, leaves exclusive rights to authorities

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Texas has recently become one of the states that has limited the use drones by citizens in civilian airspace tipping the scales in favor of law enforcement use of unmanned surveillance.

The law that was adopted in May came into force this September, making private use of drones without proper permission from the authorities punishable by a fine up to $500. The legislation, House Bill 912 also imposes civil penalties of up to $10,000 for those who improperly photograph or filmed someone else’s private property with the intent to distribute and commit malice.

“A person commits an offense if the person uses or authorizes the use of an unmanned vehicle or aircraft to capture an image without the express consent of the person who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image,” the legislature reads.

Starting September 1, it has become a Class C misdemeanour to use a drone for surveillance without prior consent of the individual. Distributing any images captured as a result of such activity will be a class B misdemeanour.

“The privacy and property rights of Texans, it is important that specific safeguards are put into place which govern the purpose and manner in which drones may be used,” said Lance Gooden, the bill’s author.

However, the use of drones by law enforcement fall under more than 40 exemptions of the Texas Privacy Act and can be used by police to pursue felons or conduct criminal investigations. Surveying accidents and natural disasters will also be permitted but using drones to investigate misdemeanours will require a warrant.

Private companies, such as news crews that have permission from authorities can use unmanned vehicles to monitor any major news activity.