Posted by on April 26, 2013 in Blog

DroneHB912, Texas State Representative Lance Gooden’s drone bill, would make it a Class C misdemeanor to possess or use many images captured by drones. While the proposal doesn’t specifically limit drone surveillance, the prohibition of capturing or using images is one step towards addressing privacy and profiling concerns.

The proposed legislation stipulates that unlawfully collected images may not be used as evidence in most court or administrative proceedings and are not subject to discovery, subpoena, or other legal compulsion for release.

Excluded from the bill are images taken pursuant to a valid search or arrest warrant; by a law enforcement authority in immediate pursuit a suspected felon (pursuant to probable cause); for the purpose of fire suppression or rescuing a person whose life is in imminent danger; for the purpose of enforcing border laws (within 25 miles of the U.S. border); taken from no more than 6’ above ground in a public place (without magnification or other enhancement); and — this is important —of public real property or a person on that property.
While the bill is a step forward for privacy, the fact that individuals could be recorded on public property without a warrant or, presumably, probable cause raises some questions, particularly in light of the NYPD spying scandal. If HB 912 is passed, and serves to define the parameters of legal surveillance, will Texas law enforcement agencies be within their rights to record individuals —Arab Americans and American Muslims— in predominantly ethnic neighborhoods; monitor street traffic to determine who is travelling to mosque for Friday prayers; observe individuals frequenting particular restaurants or coffee shops?

The bill is getting pushback, but not from the quarters you think. Media representatives say that the bill would prohibit them from covering the ongoing drought or other natural disasters; business leaders claim it could block their use of drones for agriculture and other business ventures; and others contend that it could limit environmentalists’ efforts to capture evidence of illegal polluting.)

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