HB 912 — the Texas Privacy Act — charges with a Class C misdemeanor any private or public entity that “uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image.”
The bill was passed by an impressive majority of state legislators. On May 10, the state House of Representatives approved the measure 119-11. The state Senate followed suit a week later, passing the bill by a vote of 29-1.
While the bill is a laudable attempt to shore up the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” as protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, there are numerous exceptions to the drone prohibitions.
Law enforcement, for example, may deploy drones in the “immediate pursuit of a person” officers have “reasonable suspicion or probable cause to suspect has committed an offense.”
Other exceptions protect images captured by drone “by or for an electric or natural gas utility”; “for purposes of professional or scholarly research”; and as permitted by the lawful owner of the property under surveillance.
While those exceptions are arguably reasonable, there are others that seem to leave a very large loophole in the law that military and spy drones can fly through to the detriment of Texans’ privacy.
Section 423.002 exempts from the law all drone flights and surveillance conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration “for the purpose of integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace”; as well, any drone deployment that is “part of an operation, exercise, or mission of any branch of the United States military.”
Given the federal government’s rapid acceleration of the growth of the surveillance state and the transformation of citizens into suspects, it seems that the Texas bill, while commendable, fails to sufficiently nullify the frequent unconstitutional federal assaults on the fundamental liberties protected by the Constitution.
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Photo of Gov. Rick Perry: AP Images