AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas bill that would nullify warrantless drone spying gained final approval this week and now heads to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for his signature.
HB912 would virtually eliminate all warrantless drone spying in the Lone Star State and criminalizes all drone use outside of carefully prescribed parameters.
The Texas Privacy Act states that “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 offender would be charged with a Class C misdemeanor if they were caught violating this part of the law.
The bill then outlines acceptable application of drones, including pursuant to a criminal warrant.
Data gathered by law enforcement illegally ‘may not be used as evidence in any criminal or juvenile proceeding, civil action, or administrative proceeding’ according to the bill and ‘is not subject to discovery, subpoena, or other means of legal compulsion for its release.’ This incentivizes police to not misuse the drone technology unless they wish to risk jeopardizing their entire investigation.
House passed the bill by a vote of 128-11 on May 10, and the Senate gave a slightly amended version its approval 29-1 a week later. HB912 then went to a conference committee and both chambers approved the final version.
ACTION ITEMS AND TRACKING
If you live in Texas, it is imperative that you contact Gov. Perry’s office and politely request that he do the right thing and sign H.B. 912 to protect the privacy rights of those whose rights he has sworn an oath to protect. The contact information for his office can be found by clicking HERE.
If you do not live in Texas but want to see if your state has similar legislation up for consideration, consult our Legislative Tracker. If your state does not have a bill like this up in your State House or State Senate, please urge your representative to introduce a version of our model legislation – the Privacy Protection Act.
While the state Privacy Protection Act applies to state and local law enforcement, and not federal drone us, it’s still a strong step forward to protect against federal plans for drone spying around the country. At this stage in the ‘drone game,’ the feds are relying almost solely to get states and local communities to start drone programs. Federal agencies are working hard behind the scenes to get states to operate the drones for them.
In fact, the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance being carried out by states and local communities is the Federal government itself. Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so that those agencies can purchase drones. Those grants, in and of themselves, are an unconstitutional expansion of power.
This has been as much as confirmed by a drone industry lobbyist who testified in opposition to a similar bill in Washington State, saying that such restrictions would be extremely destructive to the drone market and industry.
The goal? Fund a network of drones around the country and put the operational burden on the states. Once they create a web over the whole country, DHS steps in with requests for ‘information sharing.’ Bills like these put a dent in this kind of long-term strategy. Without the states and local communities operating the drones today, it’s going to be nearly impossible for DHS plans to – take off.