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

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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