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House Votes to Limit Drone Use


The Texas House passed a bill last night that could limit the use of aerial drones by both law enforcement and private citizens.

Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, points out that police need a warrant to enter private property, and says his bill would provide the same requirement for law enforcement using drones.

“This also is kind of the direction that we’re going with drones; we don’t want to hamper legitimate law enforcement use, but we also don’t want to give a blank check to anyone and just trust they’ll use it without it being abused,” Gooden tells KUT News.

HB 912 focuses specifically on images captured by drones. Gooden started drafting the legislation after a constituent complained their neighbor was using a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for spying, instead of monitoring cattle.

“There needs to be some base guidelines as this technology continues to progress and become cheaper,” Gooden says. “And it’ll be a lot harder to pass a bill when every local governmental agency and police and average everyday citizen have drones that they’re using 10 years from now.”

The bill would exempt law enforcement officials and first responders if they’re chasing a suspect or have probable cause to do a search. The bill also applies to private citizens using drones, but provides exemption for researchers and those that incidentally capture footage of private property.

Violators could be charged with either a Class B or Class C misdemeanor, depending on the severity and intent of the surveillance.

“Let’s say your teenage daughter is out sitting by the pool and some creep comes over and captures images of her – that’s Class C,” Gooden says. “Let’s say he puts those images on the Internet and embarrasses her and makes her life miserable and she doesn’t want to go to school. That becomes a Class B.”

Some representatives expressed concern last night during second reading, with Reps. Phil King and Gene Wu suggesting that Gooden's bill may not fully consider the ramifications of the bill for law enforcement. King called for the legislature to wait for law enforcement to make their own drone policies during the interim session; Wu said that the process of securing a search warrant could hinder law enforcement. 

The bill passed this morning with a vote of 128 to 11, with two abstaining It’s expected to move onto the Senate next week.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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