Texas bill: Drones for no one, except the police

Both the Texas House and Senate have passed a bill that criminalizes the use of drones for surveillance. There are a few exemptions: For example, members of the media can use drones to photograph and record breaking news (although this will no doubt apply only to credentialed, mainstream press). And, of course, the police can use drones.

While police are permitted to use drones (with certain restrictions), the Texas bill specifically prohibits citizen drone use to capture images of corporate malfeasance. The legislation was prompted by an incident last year when a hobbyist operating a small drone over public land in Dallas accidentally photographed a meat-packing plant illegally dumping pig blood into the Trinity River, resulting in an EPA indictment.

Privacy advocates have praised the bill’s measures that limit both corporate and law enforcement use of drones to surveil the public without limit. However, as mentioned here before, such legislation prefigures the shape of drone proliferation in the use: This is not technology that will be easily democratized. PopSci explained the details of the Texas bill, which is set to be signed into law:

It’s unique because it criminalizes taking any data — photos, sound, temperature, even odor — of private property using an unmanned aircraft without the permission of the property owner. Law enforcement officers could only use drones while executing a search warrant or if they had probable cause to believe someone is committing a felony, and firefighters can only use drones for fighting fire or to rescue a person whose life is “in imminent danger.” Texas’ border-patrolling Predator drones are exempt within 25 miles of the Mexican border.
Salon, May 29, 2013