Texans’ increased use of unmanned aircraft (or drones, as they are more commonly called) has led to a corresponding increase in legislation designed to regulate the industry. During the 85th legislative session, a number of bills were authored with the goal of providing additional direction as to who may fly drones, where they may fly them, and the purposes for which they may be flown. While it was already unlawful to use a drone “to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property,” the Legislature has passed new exceptions to that rule that supplement several previously in existence. One new exception expressly permits the use of drones for telecommunications purposes and also allows insurance companies to use them for underwriting and adjusting claims. Another bill beefed up restrictions by criminalizing the act of flying drones over concentrated animal feeding operations and oil and gas drilling sites and production facilities.
For those cases where no exception applies, there are still a number of defenses available when a drone captures an image of a person or property. For example, no liability would arise if the user did not intend to conduct “surveillance.” Because the statute does not define what constitutes surveillance, a court would likely turn to a commonly-understood definition, such as that offered by Webster’s dictionary: “close watch kept over someone or something.”
Of course, this is not an exhaustive discussion of the subject. For more information on this topic, email or call Clint Buck, Litigation Attorney with Branscomb|PC, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (210) 598-5400.