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Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Drone Law as Unconstitutional

A judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas has held that the “Use of Unmanned Aircraft” statute violates the First Amendment.  View Order here. The lawsuit, National Press Photographers Association v. McCraw, was filed by two media organizations and an individual journalist who claimed that provisions in this 2013 Texas statute violate their First Amendment rights.  In particular, the plaintiffs challenged two statutory concepts.  The first prohibits a drone from capturing an image of an individual or privately owned real property with the intent to conduct surveillance.  Numerous exceptions exist for a variety of uses including real estate agents, aerial mapping, and professional or scholarly research.  Second, they challenge a provision essentially prohibiting operating a drone over a correctional facility, detention facility, critical infrastructure facility, or sports venue.  Again, there are exceptions to the statute, allowing drones to fly over these facilities for “commercial purposes.”  Neither provision contains a newsgathering exception.  

Judge Pitman found the statute to violate the First Amendment as it is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest and is also unconstitutionally vague. To read more about this decision, click here.

Several other states have drone statutes as well, including several Southern states.  To view a compilation of those state laws from the National Agricultural Law Center, click here.

Lashmet, Tiffany. “Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Drone Law as Unconstitutional“. Southern Ag Today 2(17.5). April 22, 2022. Permalink

​Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

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