Summary and Analysis of the Texas Drone Law

(reprinted from the EastBay RC blog)

Here's my brief summary and analysis of the Texas "Drone Law".

There's been a lot of odd ("botched") reporting on this, so I'm hoping that this will help clear things up a bit.  Why it's so difficult for reporters to actually read five pages of surprisingly clearly written text is beyond me.  It took me about two hours to go through and type this up.  NY Times, give me a call!

Later I'll do the same for the California bill (much less clearly written!).  As always, leave me some comment or corrections if you've got them!

I've highlighted some important parts of the text concerning civilian or hobbyist use.  Scan down and read those and you'll have a reasonable idea of how the law applies.

tl;dr: If you're flying over public property, private property with permission of the owner, or not intending to surveil a particular person, you're good to fly by this law.

The bill addresses what kind of pictures/video may be captured from an unmanned aerial vehicle.  It adds chapter 423 to the Texas state code.

423.001 -- defining an "image". (basically what you expect: video/pictures, along with all-encompassing catch-alls covering sound, smell, and the entire electromagnetic spectrum.)

423.002 -- Nonapplicability.
                  (this is the important part. anything noted here is not covered by the law.)

(A) It is legal to capture an image by an unmanned aircraft if:

  (1) for University research.
  (2) at a designated test site or test range.
  (3) by the military.
  (4) by a satellite for purposes of mapping.
  (5) by electric or natural gas utility, for:
      (a) facilities maintenance
      (b) facilities inspection
      (c) maintaining clearances on easements
      (d) routing and siting services
  (6) with the consent of the property owner or legal resident.
  (7) pursuant to a search/arrest warrant.
  (8) by law enforcement, for:
      (a) immediate pursuit of a non-misdemeanor criminal suspect
      (b) documenting a non-misdemeanor crime scene
      (c) investing serious accident scenes
      (d) missing person search
      (e) life-threatening tactical operation
      (f) private property generally open to the public and policed.
  (9) by state/local law enforcement, for:
      (a) surveying a potential state of emergency scene
      (b) preserving public safety during a legal state of emergency
      (c) conducting routine air quality sampling
  (10) at the scene or suspected scene of a HazMat spill.
  (11) fire suppression.
  (12) rescuing a person whose life is in danger.
  (13) real estate broker, if there is no identifiable person in image.
  (14) within 25 miles of the U.S. border.
  (15) less than 8 ft altitude, with normal camera.
  (16) on public property, and people on public property.
  (17) inspecting pipelines and related facilities, but not for surveillance.
  (18) oil pipeline safety and rig protection.
  (19) port authority surveillance and protection.

(B) doesn't apply to manufacturing or selling unmanned aircraft.


(A) Illegal to  to use unmanned aircraft to capture an image of a person or private property with the intent to conduct surveillance of that person or property.

(B) class C misdemeanor

(C) defense if the person has destroyed the image:
    (1) as soon as the person knows the image was captured in violation, and
    (2) without distributing to image.

(D) "intent" is as per penal code section 6.03


(A) It's an offense if the person:
    (1) captures the image as per 003 above.
    (2) possesses, uses or distributes the image

(B) possession is a class C misdemeanor.  disclosure, etc, class B.

(C) each image is a separate offense.

(D) it's a defense if you destroy an image as soon as you know it's a violation.

(E) it's a defense if you stop disclosing as soon as you know it's a violation.


(A) No illegal image as specified above can be used in court,
(B) except to prove a violation of this law.


(A) an owner or tenant of a property can bring a civil action to:
    (1) prevent a violation of 003 or 004.
    (2) recover a civil penalty of
        (a) $5,000 per episode (for all images)
        (b) $10,000 per episode if distributed
    (3) recover actual damages if the person displays with malice.

(B,C,D) details on bringing civil action.
(F) two year time limit to bring civil action.


  DPS shall adopt rules and guidelines for law enforcement use.


  Law enforcement agencies must report unmanned aircraft use, cost, etc.
  Details as to reports.  Details as to when this law takes effect.


Views: 16448

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on February 9, 2014 at 7:03am

Nicely summarized, Mark.



Comment by R. D. Starwalt on February 9, 2014 at 8:32am

Nice summary. thank you Mark.

Essentially it enforces the privacy laws, already in place, to address the new technology.

It also give the thumbs up to nearly all the positive uses of the technology that have been debated (ad nauseum) here.

Notice there was no mention of RC aircraft for hobby purposes.


Comment by ikrase on February 9, 2014 at 9:21am

People seem very obsessed with some kind of ethereal meaning of 'surveil'. 

Comment by Emery c. Chandler on February 9, 2014 at 10:47am

so just making sure iv got this right, its ok to fly on public property above 8 ft? 

Comment by Mark Harrison on February 9, 2014 at 12:51pm

@ikrase, I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that "surveil" is a well-understood term in law (i.e. there's lots of case history behind it).

Comment by Mark Harrison on February 9, 2014 at 12:54pm

@Emory, this law is concerned only with capturing images.  So it doesn't affect any rules, regulations, or laws concerning flying.

Comment by Sgt Ric on February 9, 2014 at 2:02pm
@Liam, regarding your statement about airspace sovereignty; Again, as Mark just reiterated:
"...this law is concerned only with capturing images. So it doesn't affect any rules, regulations, or laws concerning flying."

Also, one of the sections Mark has highlighted adds the codicile about "intent", so your comment that "...quadcopter toy is now an evil drone in the eyes of Texas", simply because it carries a camera, is not correct.

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on February 9, 2014 at 2:07pm


Some Texans are quick to quote the Constitution when it is to their advantage and quick to step on it when it is to their advantage. I lived there for 5 years so I have some basis for my statement.

TCIII ArduRover2 Developer

Comment by Emery c. Chandler on February 9, 2014 at 4:25pm

well im going to be filming, as long as they dont come for me im cool.

Comment by Mark Harrison on February 9, 2014 at 4:54pm

@Liam, you've got some good points, but if you're not recording your video downlink this particular law won't apply.

I definitely expect new sets of laws and regulations as society learns the implications of this new technology.

I'm not enough of a lawyer to answer your hypothetical other than to say that I imagine we could look at your video and make a judgement as to whether you were surveilling the neighbor's property rather than looking at my cows.


You need to be a member of DIY Drones to add comments!

Join DIY Drones

© 2019   Created by Chris Anderson.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service