Texas lawmakers are considering what would become the toughest anti-drone law in the nation, following revelations the Obama administration has legally justified targeting American citizens only suspected of engaging in terrorist activities with drones.
Under a measure filed by state Rep. Lance Gooden, a Republican, the bill would essentially outlaw the use of drones over Texas by individuals or by state and federal law enforcement agencies.
In an interview with San Antonio radio station WOAI, Gooden said his bill would contain exceptions but that those would be limited. For instance, it would allow drones within 25 miles of the Rio Grande river for use in interdicting drug smugglers and illegal immigrants. It would also allow use by law enforcement with a valid search or arrest warrant, with “probable cause to believe that a person has committed a felony.”
“Do we want our local police departments laying off officers and simply parking drones over our homes to keep an eye on all of us?” Gooden asked.
Don’t mess with Texas skies
The lawmaker’s bill would also make it illegal to use any image captured with a drone in civil or criminal court proceedings.
“These drones are going to get so cheap that soon you’ll be able to buy your own drone at (electronics retail chain) Best Buy,” Gooden told the station. “You could park it a foot above the ground in your neighbor’s back yard and film into their house. If someone wanted to film your children out playing by the pool and put that video on the Internet, as creepy as that sounds,” they would be able to do so, he added.
Gooden said he is introducing his measure now, rather than five or 10 years from now when drone usage will be much more ubiquitous, because now is the time to implement laws defining and/or restricting their usage before a so-called “drone lobby” forms to protect the drone industry.
As an example, Gooden argued that if states and the federal government had implemented laws 15 years ago prohibiting texting while driving, the activity would not be as big a problem today.
“Soon you will be able to park your own drone over someone’s private property and perform indiscriminate surveillance all day long,” he said.
The Texan’s bill will also prohibit federal law enforcement or other federal officials and agencies from flying drones over Texas just to spy randomly on state citizens. The legislation would require said agencies to limit their surveillance to individuals they reasonably suspect are engaged in criminal activity, and only after a judge has issued a warrant permitting the surveillance.
The bill is gaining support following the Obama administration’s tortured legal justification for killing American citizens who are only suspected of illicit activity (this from the same president who once vowed to close down the terrorist detention center in Guantanamo Bay because he believed the foreign suspects held there were being denied their civil rights).
State measures ‘largely symbolic?’
Gooden’s bill would also allow a person who was victimized by unauthorized drone surveillance to sue for damages, whether the drone was flown by an individual or a government official.
The lawmaker admits there are legitimate uses for drone technology, from ranchers who want to keep an eye on their cattle to realtors getting good, interesting photos for use in making a sales pitch. But, he told WOAI, the time has come for Texans to reaffirm their Fourth Amendment right to be free from “unreasonable searches” in all forms, even if – or especially if – that “search” is being carried out by an unmanned flight platform.
Other states are also considering bans or restrictions on the use of drones.
Charlottesville, Va., passed the nation’s first anti-drone measure Feb. 4, The Christian Science Monitor reported, adding that nine additional states including Massachusetts and California are “considering some form of legislation” regulating drones.
The paper said; however, that the measures were “largely symbolic” because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the authority to regulate all U.S. airspace use and is currently charged with developing drone-usage regulations by 2015.