Texas 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:

Image” means: 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.

 

"Critical infrastructure facility" means:

(A)  one of the following, if completely enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier that is obviously designed to exclude intruders, or if clearly marked with a sign or signs that are posted on the property, are reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, and indicate that entry is forbidden:

  1. a petroleum or alumina refinery;
  2. an electrical power generating facility, substation, switching station, or electrical control center;
  3. a chemical, polymer, or rubber manufacturing facility;
  4. a water intake structure, water treatment facility, wastewater treatment plant, or pump station;
  5. a natural gas compressor station;
  6. a liquid natural gas terminal or storage facility;
  7. a telecommunications central switching office or any structure used as part of a system to provide wired or wireless telecommunications services;
  8. a port, railroad switching yard, trucking terminal, or other freight transportation facility;
  9. a gas processing plant, including a plant used in the processing, treatment, or fractionation of natural gas;
  10. a transmission facility used by a federally licensed radio or television station;
  11. a steelmaking facility that uses an electric arc furnace to make steel;
  12. a dam that is classified as a high hazard by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; or
  13. a concentrated animal feeding operation, as defined by Section 26.048, Water Code; or

(B)  if enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier obviously designed to exclude intruders:

  1. any portion of an aboveground oil, gas, or chemical pipeline;
  2. an oil or gas drilling site;
  3. a group of tanks used to store crude oil, such as a tank battery;
  4. an oil, gas, or chemical production facility;
  5. an oil or gas wellhead; or
  6. any oil and gas facility that has an active flare.
 

"Correctional facility" means:

  1. a confinement facility operated by or under contract with any division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  2. a municipal or county jail;
  3. a confinement facility operated by or under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons; or
  4. a secure correctional facility or secure detention facility, as defined by Section 51.02, Family Code.
 

"Detention facility" means a facility operated by or under contract with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the purpose of detaining aliens and placing them in removal proceedings.

 
 
 
Statutes/Bills:

Texas Government Code Chapter 423.- USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT

The State of Texas's Government Code regarding use of unmanned aircrafts details what is permissible use (423.002) and what is considered an offense (423.003, 423.004, 423.045, 423.046).

 

The statute provides that it is legal to capture an image using a drone in any of the following circumstances:

  1. “for the purpose of professional or scholarly research and development or for another academic purpose 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”;
  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 or a telecommunications provider” for express purposes;
  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. “if the image is captured by a law enforcement authority or a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of a law enforcement authority” in “immediate pursuit” of a suspect upon probable cause, to document a crime scene, to investigate a scene of death or serious motor vehicle accident, to search for a missing person, to conduct a high-risk tactical operation; of private property that is generally open to the public where property owner provides consent to law enforcement public safety responsibilities; or of real property or a person on real property that is within 25 miles of the United States border for the sole purpose of ensuring border security;
  9. for the same law enforcement authority designated above, except for the purposes of surveying a catastrophe, preserving public safety and protecting property, surveying during a declared state of emergency, or conducting routine air quality monitoring;
  10. “at the scene of a spill, or a suspected spill, of hazardous materials”;
  11. “for the purpose of fire suppression”;
  12. “for the purpose of rescuing a person whose life or well-being is in imminent danger”;
  13. “if the image is captured by a Texas licensed real estate broker in connection with the marketing, sale, or financing of real property,” provided no individual can be identified in the image;
  14. “from a height no more than eight feet above ground level in a public place, if the image was captured without using any electronic, mechanical, or other means to amplify the image beyond normal human perception”;
  15. if the image is “of public real property or a person on that property”;
  16. “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 Texas;
  17. “in connection with oil pipeline safety and rig protection”;
  18. “in connection with port authority surveillance and security”;
  19. “if the image is captured by a registered professional land surveyor in connection with the practice of professional surveying,” and if no individual can be identified in the image;
  20. “if the image is captured by a professional, licensed engineer,” provided the image is captured in connection with the practice of engineering and no individual can be identified in the image;
  21. “the image is captured by an employee of an insurance company or of an affiliate of the company in connection with the underwriting of an insurance policy, or the rating or adjusting of an insurance claim, regarding real property or a structure on real property; and the operator of the unmanned aircraft is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct operations within the airspace from which the image is captured.”
 

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.

 

The statutes prescribe a Class C misdemeanor when a “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.”

 

Sec. 423.004. OFFENSE: POSSESSION, DISCLOSURE, DISPLAY, DISTRIBUTION, OR USE OF IMAGE.

A person commits an offense if the person:

  1. captures an image in violation of Section 423.003; and
  2. possesses, discloses, displays, distributes, or otherwise uses that image.
 

An offense under this section for the possession of an image is a Class C misdemeanor. An offense under this section for the disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of an image is a Class B misdemeanor.

 

Each image a person possesses, discloses, displays, distributes, or otherwise uses in violation of this section is a separate offense.

 

Sec. 423.0045. OFFENSE: OPERATION OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT OVER CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DETENTION FACILITY, OR CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE FACILITY.

 

The statutes create a Class B misdemeanor, or a Class A misdemeanor in the case of a previous conviction, for “intentionally or knowingly” committing any of the following acts:

  1. operates an unmanned aircraft over a correctional facility, detention facility, or critical infrastructure facility and the unmanned aircraft is not higher than 400 feet above ground level;
  2. allows an unmanned aircraft to make contact with a correctional facility, detention facility, or critical infrastructure facility, including any person or object on the premises of or within the facility; or
  3. allows an unmanned aircraft to come within a distance of a correctional facility, detention facility, or critical infrastructure facility that is close enough to interfere with the operations of or cause a disturbance to the facility.
 

Sec. 423.0046.  OFFENSE: OPERATION OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT OVER SPORTS VENUE.

In this section, "sports venue" means an arena, automobile racetrack, coliseum, stadium, or other type of area or facility that:

  1. has a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people; and
  2. is primarily used for one or more professional or amateur sports or athletics events.
 

A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly operates an unmanned aircraft over a sports venue and the unmanned aircraft is not higher than 400 feet above ground level. An offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor, except that the offense is a Class A misdemeanor if the actor has previously been convicted under this section or Section 423.0045.

 

Sec. 423.006.  CIVIL ACTION.

An owner or tenant of privately owned real property located in this state may bring against a person who, in violation of Section 423.003, captured an image of the property or the owner or tenant while on the property an action to:

  1. enjoin a violation or imminent violation of Section 423.003 or 423.004;
  2. recover a civil penalty of:

(A)  $5,000 for all images captured in a single episode in violation of Section 423.003; or

(B)  $10,000 for disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of any images captured in a single episode in violation of Section 423.004; or

(3)  recover actual damages if the person who captured the image in violation of Section 423.003 discloses, displays, or distributes the image with malice.

 

An action brought under this section must be commenced within two years from the date the image was:

  1. captured in violation of Section 423.003; or
  2. initially disclosed, displayed, distributed, or otherwise used in violation of Section 423.004.
 

Sec. 423.005.  ILLEGALLY OR INCIDENTALLY CAPTURED IMAGES NOT SUBJECT TO DISCLOSURE.  

(a)  Except as otherwise provided by Subsection (b), an image captured in violation of Section 423.003, or an image captured by an unmanned aircraft that was incidental to the lawful capturing of an image:

  1. may not be used as evidence in any criminal or juvenile proceeding, civil action, or administrative proceeding;
  2. is not subject to disclosure, inspection, or copying under Chapter 552; and
  3. is not subject to discovery, subpoena, or other means of legal compulsion for its release.

(b)  An image described by Subsection (a) may be disclosed and used as evidence to prove a violation of this chapter and is subject to discovery, subpoena, or other means of legal compulsion for that purpose.

 

Sec. 423.007.  RULES FOR USE BY LAW ENFORCEMENT.

The Department of Public Safety shall adopt rules and guidelines for use of an unmanned aircraft by a law enforcement authority in this state.

 

Sec. 423.008.  REPORTING BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY.

(a) Not earlier than January 1 and not later than January 15 of each odd-numbered year, each state law enforcement agency and each county or municipal law enforcement agency located in a county or municipality, as applicable, with a population greater than 150,000, that used or operated an unmanned aircraft during the preceding 24 months shall issue a written report to the governor, the lieutenant governor, and each member of the legislature and shall:

  1. retain the report for public viewing; and
  2. post the report on the law enforcement agency's publicly accessible website, if one exists.

(b)  The report must include:

  1. the number of times an unmanned aircraft was used, organized by date, time, location, and the types of incidents and types of justification for the use;
  2. the number of criminal investigations aided by the use of an unmanned aircraft and a description of how the unmanned aircraft aided each investigation;
  3. the number of times an unmanned aircraft was used for a law enforcement operation other than a criminal investigation, the dates and locations of those operations, and a description of how the unmanned aircraft aided each operation;
  4. the type of information collected on an individual, residence, property, or area that was not the subject of a law enforcement operation and the frequency of the collection of this information; and
  5. the total cost of acquiring, maintaining, repairing, and operating or otherwise using each unmanned aircraft for the preceding 24 months.
 

Sec. 423.009.  REGULATION OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT BY POLITICAL SUBDIVISION.

Prohibits localities from regulating UAS except during a special event and when the UAS is used by the locality.

"Political subdivision" includes a county, a joint board created under Section 22.074, Transportation Code, and a municipality.

"Special event" means a festival, celebration, or other gathering that:

(A)  involves:

  1. (i)  the reservation and temporary use of all or a portion of a public park, road, or other property of a political subdivision; and
  2. (ii)  entertainment, the sale of merchandise, food, or beverages, or mass participation in a sports event; and

(B)  requires a significant use or coordination of a political subdivision's services.