Texas Lawmakers Want to Stop People (and the Cops) from Using Drones to Take Your Picture

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Last February, animal rights activists in South Carolina launched a small drone equipped with a camera to monitor a pigeon hunt on a private shooting plantation. The hunters promptly shot it down.

The activists' use of the drone seems to have been perfectly legal, but it's relatively uncharted territory. Lawmakers haven't yet grappled with the implications of the increasing domestic use of unmanned aerial vehicles outfitted with sophisticated surveillance technology.

Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration condones the use of drones by law enforcement agencies and hobbyists, but the obvious privacy concerns that result haven't really been addressed. Enter state Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell.

He introduced a bill late last week that would make it a crime to use a drone or other unmanned aircraft to photograph private property without the owner and occupants' consent. It's an effort to defend Texans' right to privacy, he told the Texas Tribune: "Why should the government or anyone else be able to watch my every move?"

Gooden also let the Tribune test pilot a drone on the grounds of the state Capitol and posted the resulting video to YouTube, complete with an incongruous jazz soundtrack.

The bill includes exemptions for law enforcement agencies that have probable cause or a warrant or patrol the Texas-Mexico border. Otherwise, spying via drone would be a class C misdemeanor and would carry a maximum fine of $500.

Gooden's bill has critics like Todd Humphreys, director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. He told the Tribune that the bill was overly broad, a solution in search of a problem.

Gooden, of course, disagrees and seems to relish the thought of Texans gunning down a drone caught spying.

"We should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our home or on our private property," he told the Tribune.


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29 comments
ruddski
ruddski

There are no Constitutional issues here, what you do in the privacy of your backyard may very well affect interstate commerce.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Not a comforting thought, having drones buzzing your backyard BBQ, peering into your private life.  Personally, I don't really care, as I have no private life worth peering into, or public for that matter.  I'm sure they'd buzz off voluntarily after about 5 minutes of watching me putter around the garden, tending to dead food crops.

However, for those people who actually do interesting things, I'm sure this could get annoying.  I'm also sure it is an invasion of privacy.  It'll be a touchy thing, protecting the rights of one group to enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes, while protecting the rights of another group to pursue a hobby.


P.S. If anyone ever gets any photographic or video evidence of anything remotely interesting going on at my house, please photoshop me into the image.  Being vicariously cool is almost as good as the real thing right?

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

How exactly is this different from traffic cams or red light cams? No warrant, no warning. Just your mug on a hard drive somewhere and if you're lucky no citation.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

For once I am in agreement with the wingnuts. I'll shoot em down myself.

We don't need flying cameras watching us in our own homes.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Why don't we just turn to common law trespass?  We've given right of way to the airspace to planes, but that doesn't mean we have to give it to drones.  Your right to your airspace extends up to the limits of the atmosphere.  You should have the right to limit trespass to it by drones.

unclescrappy
unclescrappy

I like the idea of the pigeon hunt. We can hunt pigeons in the AM and then when the drones come out, we can hunt them.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

I guess he's never taken a look at Google Maps.

pete
pete

@SuperfuzzBigmuff Because in public, per the courts, you have no reasonable right to privacy.And red light cams only trip if you run a red light.


ruddski
ruddski

@bvckvs

"the people who are coming out against taking photographs are the same ones who say they need to arm themselves against us."

"Us"?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bvckvs Notably, the people who want to uphold the 2nd amendment also want to uphold the 4th.  Imagine that.

On the other hand, there seem to be a lot of people who like the 1st and want to burn the other nine.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@unclescrappy Unlike pigeons, drones are not good eating. Too many bones, not enough meat.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@everlastingphelps Don't recall anybody bringing up the 1st Amendment one way or the other here, Phelps. Did I miss something?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @bvckvs  

The 4th Amendment applies to state action, that would be the police.  The police are exempted from the proposed law.  Supporting this bill does not support our 4th Amendment rights.

A-nony-mouse
A-nony-mouse

@everlastingphelps

Some of the images on Google Maps (and all of them from NCTCOG) are taken by airplanes. The biggest difference is that Google Maps and NCTCOG aren't in real time or close to it, where as drone images would be. 

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bmarvel @everlastingphelps You're right. The people who want to burn the 2nd and 4th don't like the 1st either, when it comes right down to it. They just want speech and press for their side.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

the concept of a "narrow" probable cause doesn't exist among our law enforcement personnel. if it did there wouldn't be the never ending court rulings defining such.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@mavdog @everlastingphelps I assumed it was the narrow probable cause we already have, which is along the lines of, "I can hear someone inside screaming 'help help I'm being murdered!'"

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

apparently you skipped over the phrase preceeding "a warrant"... the all encompassing "probable cause".

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bmarvel @Scruffygeist @everlastingphelps that's the real distinction with the drones. Trespass is a necessary part of how they state wants to use them. They don't want to take the photos from public property, they want to trespass your airspace with a drone to take the images.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Scruffygeist @everlastingphelps In general, the principle established in law and adjudicated all the way up to the Supreme Court is that if you can see it from public property, you can photograph it. Narrow exceptions include certain military facilities, which must be conspicuouslly posted.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@Scruffygeist @everlastingphelps It depends on the purpose of the syping.  Drones give them:

real time

A look into windows

A look under things normally covered from the air

more detail than even a CIA satellite.

I think this case really falls in line with the SCOTUS cases on thermal imaging of houses.  Yes, you can do it from the street, but it is so far beyond plain-old looking that it still constitutes a search. 

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

@everlastingphelps Hasn't stopped people from arguing about it. Plus the "how deep do mineral rights go?" debate the opposite way. 

Basically, I was being snarky about property privacy concerns when anyone with an internet connection can see any on-ground piece of property captured relatively recently. Nobody wants a drone buzzing around for no good reason, of course, but there are easier ways for people to spy on a property too.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@Scruffygeist @everlastingphelps That gets problematic when you start considering extraterrestrial property.  I mean, the moon doesn't belong to whoever's house it happens to be passing over that fraction of a second.

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