Does Texas Privacy Act protect the privacy of citizens from police?

In today's technological age, it may appear to many Texans that privacy is actually a thing of the past. After all, on an almost daily basis there are news reports on how several private citizens have their phone calls monitored and internet habits tracked - not to mention the seemingly endless number of security cameras that watch individual's movements 24 hours a day in public areas.

In years past, these forms of privacy intrusions would have seemed unbelievable, although, sadly, they are so common today that they rarely spark debate. Interestingly, however, one new type privacy invasion actually got the attention of Texas lawmakers recently: unmanned air drones.

Earlier this year, a bill was passed in Texas that made it illegal for anyone to use aerial drones to capture images on private property as a means of surveillance. However, while the new law - which became effective on September 1 - purports to protect the privacy rights of citizens, there are some significant exceptions to the law in which many may still be susceptible to drone searches by police in Texas.

police drone surveillance in texas

First of all, it should be noted that the new law - otherwise known as the Texas Privacy Act - does provide some protections for citizens whose privacy rights are violated by another person using aerial drones. Theses remedies include the ability to seek civil penalties in the amount of $5,000 against the offender for each instance in which he or she illegally captures drone images, or $10,000 for each instance if the offender illegally distributes or displays the images.

Unfortunately, the exceptions to what is considered illegal drone surveillance is quite broad in Texas, especially when it involves police drone surveillance. For example, while one of the exceptions to the new law states that police must have a valid search or arrest warrant to conduct drone surveillance, there are actually more extensive exceptions that police may utilize.

In fact, in many instances police may use drones to conduct searches without even obtaining a valid warrant first. Specifically, Texas police are permitted under the language off the Act to use drone surveillance when they have "reasonable suspicion" that a person has committed a crime and they are using the drone in the immediate pursuit of such person.

In addition, the Texas Privacy Act states that it is also lawful for aerial drones to be used to capture images on private property as long as the property is located within 25 miles of the U.S. border, which includes a significant portion of land in the El Paso area. Effectively, this means that police will not need warrants for drone surveillance in these locations.

As this article demonstrates, the laws in Texas regarding police searches just got a little more complex. Accordingly, if you are currently facing criminal charges and believe the police conducted an illegal or unconstitutional search during your arrest, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can review the circumstances of your arrest and help ensure your rights are protected.