Thursday, April 24, 2014

Debating drones: Texas EquuSearch case shows why bans were unwise, premature

Does it constitute "surveillance" to use drones to look for missing persons and/or the people who may have taken them? ¿Quien sabe?

The Houston Chronicle reported that "Texas EquuSearch filed suit Monday against the federal government to overturn the grounding of its fleet of aerial drones used to search for missing people." Regular readers know the Federal Aviation Administration won't come out with regulations for civilian drone use until 2015.

But the truth is EquuSearch's use of drones for this purpose by a private actor may also be banned under Texas law. HB 912 passed last session allowed law enforcement to use drones to search for missing persons, but it made no exception for nonprofits like this organization.

This is another example why Grits and many national experts considered Texas' "drone bill" banning video recording by unmanned aircraft to be misguided. Drones have a plethora of legitimate uses, many of which have yet to even be imagined yet. Blanket bans - whether by the Texas Legislature or the FAA - preempt many cool and useful things this technology can do before people can even try them. I agree with the FAA that Texas EquuSearch's drones are probably covered by the ban on civilian use until 2015, and even if they weren't their use would likely be prevented by Texas' HB 912, strictly interpreted. I don't agree, though, that banning them best serves the public and there are many other legitimate uses that should also be allowed.

MORE: See a letter (pdf) to the FAA from Texas EquuSearch arguing why the FAA ban on civilian drone use shouldn't apply to them.

CORRECTION: I was wrong about Texas' law. It allows someone under the direction of law enforcement to look for missing persons with drones so Texas EquuSearch could legally do so at the behest of law enforcement.


Brendan Schulman said...

I don't think you have read the Texas statute carefully.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh? Please elaborate, Brendan. It allows police to use drones to search for missing persons. Where does it let a nonprofit do so?

Chris H said...

It allows them to do it while acting under the direction of law enforcement

(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:
(D) in connection with the search for a missing person;

rodsmith said...

I have to agree bans are a waste of time the govt fucktards in power will never agree to them.

Now a major new business selling refurbished ww2 anti-aircraft guns could be a winner.

yes the govt has the right to allow planes to fly in the air 20-40 thousand feet up. not 100. at that point they are in your airspace. just like the govt. no clearance. shoot em down.