DOPD – June 2015 Article
Double Oak Police Department
Thank you to the membership of the Double Oak Women’s Club for the overwhelming acts of kindness during National Police Week. The baked goods, meals and handwritten notes were sincerely appreciated by every officer with the police department. We would also like to thank the D.O.W.C. for helping fund three sets of external body armor that go on patrol daily. The armor was delivered Wednesday May 13, 2015 and utilized by one of your officers during the peaceful resolution of a disturbance call (involving multiple police officers, the Sheriff’s department and a reported suspect armed with a shotgun) on Saturday May 16, 2015.
Over the past month I’ve received three inquiries regarding the legality and utilization of unmanned aerial vehicles (generally referred to as “drones” or in this article UAVs). Before reciting the law regarding UAVs, and making a few observations from the law enforcement side of things, I would like to propose a lot of conflict could be avoided with common courtesy between neighbors. If you’ve purchased a UAV for personal or family use (gift to the children?) please consider speaking with your young pilot about the sanctity of a person’s home and their privacy. If you want to fly a camera equipped drone, where it will have a view of your neighbors, have the courtesy to ask permission.
- Is it against the law for a person to take pictures of my home or family without permission?
- Yes. Texas Government Code Sec. 423.003. OFFENSE: ILLEGAL USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT TO CAPTURE IMAGE. (a) A person commits an offense if the person uses an unmanned aircraft 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 captured in the image.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.
(c) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the person destroyed the image:
(1) as soon as the person had knowledge that the image was captured in violation of this section; and
(2) without disclosing, displaying, or distributing the image to a third party.
(d) In this section, “intent” has the meaning assigned by Section 6.03, Penal Code.
A few observations from the law enforcement side of things. This is a challenging law to enforce. The state has to prove that the defendant intended to capture the image and that they forwarded the pictures to a third party. Identifying the pilot / owner of the UAV, obtaining permission or a search warrant to access the drone hard drive (or a computer or website where the images are being stored), finding witness testimony about the flight and then the ability of the person to delete the pictures as a defense to prosecution are all pretty big roadblocks. I suspect successful prosecutions are going to result from people finding images of their homes, or persons that have been captured by a UAV and then posted to a social media website.
It’s also important to understand that there are numerous lawful uses of UAVs enumerated under Texas Government Code Sec. 423.002 including, but not limited to: (1)…professional or scholarly research…by a person acting on behalf of an institution of higher learning…(2) is airspace designated as a test site or range…(3) as part of an operation, exercise,…of any branch of the United States military; (4) if the image is captured by a satellite for the purposes of mapping; (5)…captured by or for an electric or natural gas utility: (6) with the consent (!) of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image; (7) pursuant to a valid search or arrest warrant; (8)…captured by a law enforcement authority…(A) in immediate pursuit of a person…officers have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to suspect has committed an offense,…(B) for the purpose of document a crime scene…(9)…(A) surveying the scene of a catastrophe..etc.
If you observe a UAV being operated, and are concerned that the person is unlawfully capturing your images of you or your property, please call the police and file a complaint.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.