Tennessee UAS Laws

  
 
Note on Federal vs State Laws:

Federal airspace laws take precedence over state drone laws. If a state or local law directly conflicts with FAA regulations, the state or local law is likely to be invalidated. 

 

Definitions:

The Tennessee Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act defines a “drone” as “a powered, aerial vehicle” that:

  1. does not carry a human operator and cannot be operated by a human from within or on the aircraft;
  2. uses aerodynamic forces for lift;
  3. can be piloted remotely or fly autonomously;
  4. can be recoverable or expendable.
 

Law enforcement agency” refers to an agency that is responsible for preventing and detecting crime, for enforcing local government code, and for enforcing “penal, traffic, regulatory, game, or controlled substance laws.”

 

Critical infrastructure facility” means:

  1. An electrical power generation system; electrical transmission system, either as a whole system or any individual component of the transmission system; or electrical distribution substation;
  2. A petroleum refinery;
  3. A manufacturing facility that utilizes any hazardous substance, as defined in § 68-131-102, either in storage or in the process of manufacturing;
  4. A chemical or rubber manufacturing facility;
  5. A petroleum or chemical storage facility;
  6. A water or wastewater treatment facility;
  7. Any facility, equipment, or pipeline infrastructure utilized in the storage, transmission, or distribution of natural gas or propane; and
  8. Railroad yards and facilities not open to the general public;
  9. Communication service facilities
 

The statute generally prohibits drone use by a law enforcement agency to gather evidence or other information. Following the general prohibition, the statute prescribes exceptions by which drone use is permissible.

 

The statute allows use of a drone in these circumstances:

  1. to counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States secretary of homeland security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is such a risk;
  2. if the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judge authorizing its use;
  3. if the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life;
  4. to provide continuous aerial coverage when law enforcement is searching for a fugitive or escapee or is monitoring a hostage situation; or
  5. to provide more expansive aerial coverage when deployed for the purpose of searching for a missing person.
 

In 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted a chapter concerning “Surveillance by Unmanned Aircraft” as part of the Tennessee Code’s Criminal Offenses Title. It first defines “images” broadly, including “any capturing of sound waves, thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves, odor, or other conditions existing on or about

real property in this state or an individual located on that property.” The definition of “unmanned aircraft” is broad, including any “airborne device that is operated without an individual in or on the device.”

 

39-13-902. - Lawful capture of images – Use for lawful purposes.

 

It is legal to capture an image using a drone in any of the following circumstances:

  1. for purposes of professional or scholarly research and development by a person acting on behalf of an institution of higher education;
  2. in airspace designated as a test site or range authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration for the purpose of integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace;
  3. as part of an operation, exercise, or mission of any branch of the United States military, as long as it complies with the United States Constitution;
  4. if the image is captured by a satellite for the purposes of mapping;
  5. if the image is captured by or for an electric or natural gas utility for one of several listed purposes;
  6. with the consent of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image;
  7. (7) “for law enforcement purposes,” as defined by another statute, (see Tenn. Code 39-13-609);
  8. (8) if the image is captured by state law enforcement authorities, or a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of state authorities to survey a catastrophe or determine whether a state of emergency should be declared, to preserve public safety or protect property or survey damage or contamination during a lawfully declared state of emergency, or to conduct routine air quality sampling and monitoring;
  9. at the scene of a spill, or a suspected spill, of hazardous materials;
  10. for the purpose of fire suppression;
  11. for the purpose of rescuing a person whose life or well-being is in imminent danger;
  12. if the image is captured by a Tennessee licensed real estate broker in connection with the marketing, sale, or financing of real property, provided no individual can be identified in the image;
  13. if the image is of real property or a person on that property;
  14. if the image is captured by the owner or operator of an oil, gas, water, or other pipeline for the purpose of inspecting, maintaining, or repairing pipelines or other related facilities, and is captured without the intent to conduct surveillance on an individual or real property located in Tennessee;
  15. in connection with oil and gas pipeline and well safety and protection;
  16. in connection with port authority surveillance and security;
  17. as authorized or permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration for use in a motion picture, television or similar production where the filming is authorized by the property owner and a state or local film permit agency, if necessary;
  18. as a part of a commercial service that has received authorization from the federal aviation administration to use unmanned aircraft or an unmanned aircraft operating under regulations promulgated by the federal aviation administration for commercial use of unmanned aircraft; (19) when an image is “captured by a state or local government agency, or by a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of such agency, [it] shall be handled in accordance with § 39-13-609 and shall not be used for any purpose other than the lawful purpose for which the image was captured as permitted by this section.” A recent amendment to the statute provides that it is legal to use drones to capture images in land surveying; by the department of transportation; or photogrammetric mapping.
 

39-13-903.  Unlawful capture of image with intent to conduct surveillance a misdemeanor offense -Defense.

If drones are used to capture images in any of the following ways, actions result in a Class C misdemeanor:

  1. uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in Tennessee with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image;
  2. knowingly uses an image captured for law enforcement purposes by a state or local law enforcement agency, or by a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction of or on behalf of such agency;
  3. uses an unmanned aircraft to intentionally capture an image of an individual or event at an open-air event venue wherein more than one hundred individuals are gathered for a ticketed event, provided there is no consent from the venue owner or operator;
  4. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft within or over a designated fireworks discharge site, fireworks display site, or fireworks fallout area during an event, subject to provided definitions of “discharge site,” “display site,” and “fallout area”; or
  5. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft over the grounds of a correctional facility;
  6. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft within two hundred fifty feet of the perimeter of any critical infrastructure facility without the business operator's written consent for the purpose of conducting surveillance of, gathering evidence or collecting information about, or photographically or electronically recording, critical infrastructure data.

39-13-903.  Unlawful capture of image with intent to conduct surveillance a misdemeanor offense -Defense.

If drones are used to capture images in any of the following ways, actions result in a Class C misdemeanor:

1. uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in Tennessee with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image;

2. knowingly uses an image captured for law enforcement purposes by a state or local law enforcement agency, or by a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction of or on behalf of such agency;

3. uses an unmanned aircraft to intentionally capture an image of an individual or event at an open-air event venue wherein more than one hundred individuals are gathered for a ticketed event, provided there is no consent from the venue owner or operator;

4. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft within or over a designated fireworks discharge site, fireworks display site, or fireworks fallout area during an event, subject to provided definitions of “discharge site,” “display site,” and “fallout area”; or

5. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft over the grounds of a correctional facility;

6. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft within two hundred fifty feet of the perimeter of any critical infrastructure facility without the business operator's written consent for the purpose of conducting surveillance of, gathering evidence or collecting information about, or photographically or electronically recording, critical infrastructure data.

 

39-13-904. - Possession or distribution and use of unlawfully captured images – Misdemeanor offenses – Separate images constitute separate offenses – Defenses.

The statutes create a Class C misdemeanor offense when a person possesses an image in violation of the law, and, a Class B misdemeanor when one “discloses, displays, distributes, or otherwise uses that image.” Each image creates a separate offense.

The section concludes by listing two separate defenses to these charges:

  1. that one destroyed the image as soon as he or she had knowledge it was captured illegally, or
  2. that one “stopped disclosing, displaying, distributing, or otherwise using the image” as soon as he or she had knowledge it was captured illegally.

39-13-905.  Use of unlawfully captured images as evidence -Disclosure of images limited.

39-13-906.  Applicability of part.

39-13-907.  Construction of part.

The Tennessee Hunter Protection Act

70-4-301.  Part definitions.

70-4-302.  Violations -Penalty.

70-4-303.  Injunctions – Damages – Construction.

The Tennessee Hunter Protection Act concerns the use of drones to interfere with a lawful exercise of taking wildlife. The statute creates a Class C misdemeanor for using a drone with the intent to conduct video surveillance of private citizens who are lawfully hunting or fishing without obtaining the written consent of the persons being surveilled prior to conducting the surveillance.