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Texas restricts civilian drone usage, leaves exclusive rights to authorities

Texas restricts civilian drone usage, leaves exclusive rights to authorities
Texas has recently become one of the states that has limited the use drones by citizens in civilian airspace tipping the scales in favor of law enforcement use of unmanned surveillance.

The law that was adopted in May came into force this September, making private use of drones without proper permission from the authorities punishable by a fine up to $500. The legislation, House Bill 912 also imposes civil penalties of up to $10,000 for those who improperly photograph or filmed someone else’s private property with the intent to distribute and commit malice.

“A person commits an offense if the person uses or authorizes the use of an unmanned vehicle or aircraft to capture an image without the express consent of the person who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image,” the legislature reads.

Starting September 1, it has become a Class C misdemeanour to use a drone for surveillance without prior consent of the individual. Distributing any images captured as a result of such activity will be a class B misdemeanour.

“The privacy and property rights of Texans, it is important that specific safeguards are put into place which govern the purpose and manner in which drones may be used,” said Lance Gooden, the bill’s author.

However, the use of drones by law enforcement fall under more than 40 exemptions of the Texas Privacy Act and can be used by police to pursue felons or conduct criminal investigations. Surveying accidents and natural disasters will also be permitted but using drones to investigate misdemeanours will require a warrant.

Private companies, such as news crews that have permission from authorities can use unmanned vehicles to monitor any major news activity.

AFP Photo / Ben Stansall

Virginia became the first state to pass legislation restricting drone usage, but has issued a two-year moratorium to review the privacy implications. Five other states also passed drone restrictions. They include Idaho, Illinois, Florida, Montana and Tennessee. Another 31 US states are actively considering drone legislation.

The US Congress has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to grant drones access to domestic airspace by 2015.

The FAA estimates that 10,000 commercial drones will take to the skies by 2020 after, with $94 billion spent over the course of 10 years.

“Once enabled, commercial UAS markets will develop. There are many potential ways for a company to generate revenue from UAS applications, whether from new markets or more efficient applications in established markets. Based upon the expected regulatory environment, FAA predicts roughly 10,000 active commercial UASs in five years,” states the FAA Aerospace Forecast for Fiscal Years 2012-2032.

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