Responding to utility industry concerns that imposing criminal and civil penalties for the unauthorized capture of the image of an individual by an unmanned aircraft could negatively affect public health and safety, the House attached several amendments to HB 912 by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) to ease the impact of the bill on legitimate uses of drone technology. Specifically, as amended on second reading, the bill allows electric utilities, pipeline operators, or entities that use satellite mapping to continue those operations without criminal liability (as long as the use of drone technology is without the intent to conduct surveillance on an individual or private property). Another amendment clarifies that researching, developing, testing, manufacturing, assembling, distributing, or selling an unmanned vehicle or unmanned aircraft does not constitute a criminal offense. Images captured in connection with port authority surveillance and security, cattle ranching or agriculture and wildlife management, oil and gas exploration, water supply safety, oil pipeline safety and rig protection, land surveying, agriculture or farming safety, or an air show are now exempt as well.

HB 912 also creates a civil cause of action for an owner or tenant of privately owned real property against a person who captures an image of the property or owner or tenant. The plaintiff may seek injunctive relief and recover a civil penalty of $5,000 for all images captured in a single episode, or $10,000 for disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of any images captured in a single episode. Actual damages are likewise recoverable if the person who captured the image discloses, displays, or distributes the image with malice. The bill was amended to clarify that all owners or tenants of a parcel of real property are considered to be a single owner or tenant for purposes of recovering civil penalties. Finally, a two-year statute of limitations was added to the bill.

HB 912 will be heard on third reading today.

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