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At Deadline, Anti-Drone Bill Flies Through House

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Courtesy House of Representatives member page.
Rep. Lance Gooden(R-Terrell)

Rep. Lance Gooden
Courtesy House of Representatives member page.
Rep. Lance Gooden
For anyone worried their neighbor might spy on them with a small unmanned aircraft (aka drones), Lance Gooden, and the Texas House, has your back.

Amid talk of “big brother” and a “brave new world” of technology, the House tentatively passed a bill criminalizing certain types of drone photography on Thursday evening.

House Bill 912, by Republican Rep. Lance Gooden from Terrell and more than 80 co-authors, would make it a Class C misdemeanor to use drones—unmanned aircraft—to take photos, except as exempted by the bill. It would also impose a fine of $5,000 for all photos taken by a drone without permission, or a $10,000 fine for distributing the photos.

Gooden said the whole purpose of the bill is to “ensure that our privacy rights are protected,” and that the fines would only apply if malicious intent could be proved.

Some lawmakers worried about the steep fines and how they’d be enforced.

Republican Rep. Drew Springer (Muenster) asked Gooden how, exactly, officials would enforce this law. How are we going to find the helicopter, Springer asked from the back mic. Are we going to send the police to see who captured the pictures?

Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba clearly came prepared: He brought a tiny toy helicopter up to the back mic and explained that the kids’ toy had a small camera in it. He wanted to know if a kid piloting the toy would be incriminated if it took a photo. Gooden said no.

Lawmakers tacked on a slew exemptions: Satellite imaging by Google is allowed, and any photos taken for planning or maintenance purposes, oil pipeline safety, port authority surveillance, or for agricultural purposes will be allowed.

The Texas Department of Public Safety can also use drones, but it must adopt rules for its own drone usage, and no one, DPS included, can take photos of licensed daycare facilities or public schools.

One amendment, by Villalba, would have broadened the bill’s exceptions to include any legitimate law-enforcement activity.

But the amendment failed on a record vote after Gooden shot it down.

“Let’s just scrap the Fourth Amendment and say you can monitor me at any time, as long as it’s legitimate,” Gooden said. “The point of this bill is to give guidance to law enforcement and say these are all acceptable uses… giving a blanket exemption to anyone defeats the purpose of the motivation behind this bill.”

The bill passed to third reading on a voice vote. The House must pass the bill on to the Senate tomorrow.