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Texas legislature gives final approval to drone legislation

Texas lawmakers on Friday passed a bill [HB 912, PDF] that penalizes the possession, display and distribution of any image or video captured by an illegal drone, and increases penalties to up to $10,000 if those images or videos are subsequently posted on the internet. In addition, the bill makes it a Class C misdemeanor to use an "unmanned vehicle or aircraft" to photograph or videotape "individual or privately owned property" within the state without the consent of its possessor. Exceptions include drone use by law enforcement officials during the course of executing "valid search or arrest warrant[s]," while in "immediate pursuit" of suspected felons and while investigating crime scenes involving "suspected human fatalit[ies]." However, lawmakers rejected a version of the bill that gave a blanket exception to law enforcement officials. Other exceptions include use by utility companies, use for "professional or scholarly research," and use in airspace designated as a "test site or range" by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) [official website]. The law's passage has been a contentious issue [Dallas Morning News report] in Texas, with proponents arguing that technology has outpaced privacy law, and opponents contending that the law will make it more difficult to uncover and report natural and industrial accidents, thus depriving the public of valuable information. The bill passed the Senate and the House in early May before receiving final approval Sunday.

Drone technology has been a divisive issue around the globe, especially with respect to the global war on terror. Earlier this month US President Barack Obama delivered a speech [JURIST report] on US counterterrorism policy and efforts, outlining plans to restrict the use of unmanned drone strikes and to renew efforts to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Also in May Pakistan declared US drone strikes to be illegal [JURIST report] and directed Pakistan's Foreign Ministry to introduce a resolution against such attacks in the UN. In March a US federal appellate court reversed [JURIST report] a ruling on CIA drone strikes, holding that the CIA must respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) claim filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requesting records on the CIA's drone program. Also in March a group of legal experts testified [JURIST report] before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the growing need for new privacy laws because of the rapid advancement of drone technologies and their increased use.

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