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Texas Law Bans Drone Use for Civilians, Not Law Enforcement

Much of the coverage about the usage of unmanned aerial drones has been in the context of targeted military strikes. There is a growing concern in the US about the usage of surveillance drones by civilians and law enforcement. With a growing number of states considering legislation to regulate these drones, Texas has become the most recent state to ban their use by civilians.

Virginia was the first state to pass a law regulating surveillance drones; however their law focused on usage of the machines by law enforcement and the government, not civilians and private hobbyists. The Texas law instead bans the use of drones by amateur or professional photographers. A conviction of using a drone is punishable by a $500 fine. If those who were photographed can prove malicious intent, they can receive $10,000 in civil penalties. However, the law provides 40 exemptions for Texas law enforcement, allowing them to employ surveillance drones without a warrant and with only a suspicion of illegal activity.

In 2012, a civilian photographer in Texas using a drone brought to light a meatpacking plant utilizing illegal dumping procedures, when he caught a picture of a creek literally running red with pig’s blood. Under the new law, it the drone pilot rather than the meatpacking plant would be the criminal.

Some drone use is innocuous or artistic, like the French band Phoenix’s video that was shot using a drone. Anthony Cumia – half of Sirius/XM’s Opie and Anthony – is a noted drone user, often shooting videos of his neighborhood. He spoke on CNN and Fox News about amateur drone use after one came with 200 feet of an airliner in Long Island, last spring. He asserted that while mostly harmless, he’s certain such incidents would ruin it for everyone, that is if legislation doesn’t first. 


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