3D Robotics

Texas law bans some private use of drones


Despite the positive example a few years ago of a drone used to spot pig's blood polluting a local river, Texas has passed a law banning the use of private drones to collect images of property or people without permission.

From the Albany Democrat-Herald:

More than 40 state legislatures have debated the increasing presence of unmanned aircraft in civilian airspace, with most of the proposals focused on protecting people from overly intrusive surveillance by law enforcement.

But Texas' law, which took effect Sept. 1,  tips the scales in police favor _ giving them broad freedoms to use drones during investigations and allowing them to bypass a required search warrant if they have suspicions of illegal activity _ while also limiting use of small drones by ordinary residents.

"Texas is really the outlier," said Allie Bohm, an advocacy and policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The law makes using drones to capture images of people or property without permission punishable by a fine up to $500, while also allowing those improperly photographed or filmed to collect up to $10,000 in civil penalties if they can show that images were collected or distributed with malice.


Texas' broad exception allows police or law enforcement contractors to forgo a search warrant if they "have reasonable suspicion or probable cause." Other states only waive warrant requirements in cases of catastrophe or terrorist attack.

Lon Craft, director of legislative affairs for the Texas Municipal Police Association, said it still goes too far, though.

"I'm OK if they want to limit citizens, but don't tie the hands of law enforcement," said Craft, who said he used to employ drones as part of a narcotics task force in Harris County, which includes Houston.

That use is one of more than 40 exceptions in the Texas law. Others permit drone use anywhere within 25 miles of the U.S. border and by everyone from students conducting scholarly research to real estate brokers taking promotional pictures.


The law won't affect journalists because covering news doesn't meet the definition of surveillance. And the hobbyist's discovery of pig's blood would fall under exceptions that allow drones to hunt for environmental hazards, he said.

Thanks to Kevin Hester for the find!

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  • Scary thing is, you're probably right andycross. :-(

  • no court will enforce that what a joke. If the owner has problem with  the images and voices it to the drone operator and the operator refuses to take the images down is "only" time this law will ever be enforced. Another over paid legislator that is protecting its corp interests over the people.

  • I guess replacing the camera with a gun would be OK

  • This law was originally written much worse. It proposed to outlaw any type of camera or sensing device on a unmanned vehicle. There was an active group that lobbied hard to get it where it ended up. Fortunately, it ended up at a place most us can live with. For practical purposes you can really ignore all the exemptions because they were added when the offense was much more strict. The important part is the that you are not allowed to fly with the "intent to conduct surveillance" without the landowner's permission. So, no intentional spying. The law also specifies that a legit defense is to simply erase the media. It is in fact a poorly written law, but in the end it won't be limiting to normal FPV flying.

  • I remember this too, he found it by accident and had no idea what it was at first.  Our little drone user group down here got a copy of the laws before they passed but there was nothing we could do about them. 

  • Because of the positive example a few years ago of a drone used to spot pig's blood polluting a local river, Texas has passed a law banning the use of private drones to collect images of property or people without permission.

    There, I fixed it for you.

  • MR60

    Look where and through which path the money flows and you will understand what apparently seems unexplainable. This applies to Texas, no exception.

  • Whoops, I guess this means those pesky NOAA weather satellites will have to be outfitted with little pasties to block out Texas. Well, Mr. Perry can do a better job of prediction anyway, what with him having his nose to the wind and all.

  • So what stops you from creating a blog and saying you are a "journalist"? Are there laws in TX that define what a journalist is? I would be much more concerned with this loose idea that using a "drone" allows you to bypass search & seizure laws.

  • Good Choice TC3, Floridas government is still a bit off, but not this far.

    And from what youve said, I guess not so new State Motto.

    Sadly even in my over the top liberal California, when an employee took a camera in side one of the Southern California beef slaughterhouses and photographed utterly illegal, utterly deplorable conditions with totally inhumane treatment of the cattle which were being for all practical purposes left completely without the government oversight they were supposed to have, we did the same thing.

    Immediately got lots of our politicians putting forward and passing laws to make such trespass on the rights of those poor beleagured Corporations from having to put up with such inappropriate civic minded claptrap. 

    After all, it embarrassed both the politicians and the government, (Hmm, sort of like Snowden).

    I guess the photographer is lucky they didn't seek the death penalty.

    I love our country, but I am very afraid it is headed terminally in the wrong direction, valuing wealth, power and influence far more than individual freedom and opportunity.

    I notice in those exceptions they said that the hobbyists discovery of pig blood would have been OK!

    Right, the Company would sue for $10,000.00 damages for each of it's employees saying they had their rights violated by being surveilled and by the time their fleet of lawyers was done they would have destroyed the "perpetrator".

    Leaving a clear lesson for those who might choose to follow.

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