In responding to the concerns drones and their potential for spying on Americans is raising across the U.S., Texans will see a new law effective Sept. 1 that deals with this controversial issue.
Per a congressional order, 2015 will bring the Federal Aviation Administration opening the skies to private drones. With inclusion of national privacy rules not anticipated to be part of the regulations, states are developing their own responses to drone privacy concerns.
Per the Washington Post, domestic drone privacy bills have been introduced in a majority of state legislatures this year. Texas became at least the sixth state to regulate drone use on June 14 with Gov. Rick Perry signing HB 912 into law.
While many states focus strictly on drone surveillance by law enforcement with some prohibiting the use of drone-generated images in court and others banning public agencies’ use of drones, the Texas bill regulates drone surveillance conducted by both public and private parties.
The Post describes the legislation:
The Texas legislation illustrates the complexity of regulating private drone use. The legislation that Perry signed on Friday features a broad prohibition on public and private drone use followed by a long list of exceptions. For example, Texas allows drones to be used by “a Texas licensed real estate broker in connection with the marketing, sale, or financing of real property.” Oil and gas companies can use drones for “inspecting, maintaining, or repairing pipelines.” Utility companies can use drones for “assessing vegetation growth for the purpose of maintaining clearances on utility easements.” The legislation enumerates at least 19 circumstances where drone use is allowed.
This approach assumes the Texas legislature can anticipate all of the beneficial uses for drones. That’s probably not a good assumption — people often discover unanticipated applications for new technologies, and it will be cumbersome to amend the law every time someone thinks of a new drone application.
The article further warns how regulating drones operated by private parties could become, in the words of Yale Law School scholar Margot Kaminski, “kind of a disaster” especially with regard to First Amendment issues.
For example, “if you have a news organization hovering over a protest and videoing cops beating protesters, that’s really valuable for the First Amendment,” she says. The courts have already said that private citizens have a First Amendment right to video-record the activities of public officials. The same reasoning suggests that aerial recording of police conduct would be constitutionally protected.
But while Kaminski is critical of the kinds of prohibitions enacted in Texas and Idaho, she doesn’t favor the federal government preempting them. Instead, she argues the state-by-state trial-and-error process is necessary for the nation to navigate the complexities of drone regulation. She worries that federal legislation would strike the wrong balance, imposing a poorly crafted law on the entire country.
“There’s really not all that much out there that shows how the First Amendment and privacy law are supposed to intersect,” she says. She believes states like Idaho and Texas are “likely to end up with a ruling that says this doesn’t pass First Amendment muster.” That will give other states feedback about how to craft legislation that is consistent with the Constitution. And in the long run, it should lead to better laws across the country.
Meanwhile, others are not so thrilled with the specifics of Texas’ drone regulation legislation. The Grits for Breakfast blog offers thought-provoking analysis along with its Top Five Things Wrong With Texas’ Drone Bill.
Drones are relatively inexpensive – both their purchase and operation. With not requiring a pilot, they bring cost effective opportunity for new surveillance applications to public and private interests. The wide variety of these applications could also yield a mixed bag of consequences.
One thing that’s certain, passage of this bill is only the beginning of the privacy v. security debate and the ever-changing role technology plays in that discussion.
Courtesy of: Lou Ann Anderson