Last Friday, Governor Perry signed into law a bill to severely restrict the use of drones for surveillance. Dubbed the ‘Texas Privacy Act’, H.B. 912 is an attempt to rein in potential abuses related to the rapidly-developing drone technology that has made its hands into the hands of government at the state and federal levels. The bill was originally authored by Rep. Gooden (R-District 4) and amassed over 100 co-sponsors since it was introduced Feb. 1, showing vast and bipartisan support for stopping the government’s Orwellian takeover of our skies. The House passed the bill by a vote of 128-11 on May 10th. (roll call here) And the Senate passed a slightly amended version of the bill by a vote of 29-1. (roll call here).
The bill 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.
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.
While the bill was written to preserve Constitutional freedoms, it still gives law enforcement the ability to fight crime. The bill specifically permits law enforcement to use evidence collected by drones under certain criteria including if it is ‘pursuant to a valid search or arrest warrant’ or ‘of public real property or a person on that property.’
In addition, the bill was amended from its original version as it made its way through various committees on its way to being passed. It provides exemptions for oil and gas companies to use drones to inspect pipelines and for media sources to cover events such as floods or car chases without being charged criminally. It also allows police to use drones in the case of ‘reasonable suspicion’ which may be a part of the newly-amended bill that can be abused.
Although these additions to the bill may allow law enforcement more leeway to use drones than the original version, it is still a victory to get this through the state legislature as it at least provides some protection against drone surveillance.
Just recently, the FBI has admitted to using drones to spy on Americans. Director Robert Mueller has downplayed this action by saying “It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident where you need the capability.” Even more frightening now than the admission to spying on US citizens, the FBI has now deemed just recently, that they should work on creating establishing rules for the domestic drone program. He even complained that more transparency would give access to information to our “enemies.”
The Machine knows no bounds to its unconstitutional acts. Texas is just one of the few states that have deemed unrestricted drone usage to be more hazardous to its residents than the secrecy the government enshrouds itself in.
ACTION ITEMS AND TRACKING
If you do not live in Texas but want to see if your state has passed similar legislation, 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.
In fact, 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.