|Image via Wikipedia|
Texas' new law stipulates that "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." The term "surveillance," though, is undefined in the statute. Most of these unmanned aircraft will inevitably be equipped with cameras that may capture "an image of an individual or privately owned real property" as they fly around. But while there are many exceptions in the statute to for law enforcement, utilities, oil and gas companies, etc., there's no exception for simple hobbyists like most of the folks who'll be attending the SXSW event.
I doubt law enforcement will come out to arrest DIY drone flyers at the Austin "Fly-in," but the fact that in theory they could shows why the statute was misguided, over-broad, and premature. When the law passed at the Texas Legislature, prosecutors predicted no one would ever be charged under it because the statute is too vague and contains many, often confusing caveats and exceptions that no one - either in the public or among law enforcement - really understands.
Arguably, DIY drones aren't engaging in "surveillance" but "sousveillance," or the recording of an activity by a participant in that activity. Texas' statute doesn't make such a distinction, but the realities of unmanned aircraft and the rapidity of their adoption for innumerable legitimate uses, many of which involve photography, show why the law as written really isn't ready for prime time.