Eyes in the Sky – What drones are allowed to see in Texas

While Amazon may simply want to deliver packages to your home using drones, a vast field of public (law enforcement, military) and private (mapping, surveying, inspecting) uses for such unmanned aircraft is developing.  On September 1, 2013, the Texas Privacy Act (Tex. Gov’t Code Ch. 423) became law and set ground rules for the lawful (and unlawful) capture of images by drones.  Interestingly, though titled the “Privacy Act,” the statute details nineteen broad categories of activity that drones are permitted to capture images of, including:

  • an electric or natural gas utility that is inspecting its facilities (Tex. Gov’t Code 423.002(a)(5));
  • with the consent of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image (Tex. Gov’t Code 423.002(a)(6));
  • of public real property or a person on that property (Tex. Gov’t Code 423.002(a)(16)); and,
  • in connection with oil pipeline safety (Tex. Gov’t Code 423.002(a)(18)).

If the use does not fall within one of the nineteen exceptions, then it can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor and the owner or tenant of the property photographed can seek civil penalties of $5,000 per episode or $10,000 per episode if the images were disclosed, displayed, or distributed to others.  However, a person can escape criminal prosecution if they destroy the image as soon as they have knowledge that the image was captured in violation of the statute.

Given that the statue already permits so many uses, it is likely that drones will become an increasingly popular commercial tool.  So, keep your eyes on the sky and smile for the camera.