A federal judge, Robert Pitman, has declared a Texas drone law, known as Chapter 423 of the Texas Government Code, unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and the press. This law was challenged by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), the Texas Press Association (TPA), and three Texas-based photojournalists, who argued that it improperly banned the use of drones for news reporting. Although the law had exceptions for surveying, real estate work, and academic research, there was no exception for news reporting. The law aimed to limit the use of drones to collect images of private property or for surveillance.
Judge Pitman concluded that Chapter 423 was a content-based restriction that was impermissible under the First Amendment and could not be enforced by any government or police entity. The judge also took issue with the law’s “no-fly” provisions that prohibited drones from flying over correctional facilities, detention facilities, critical infrastructure facilities, and sports venues at lower than 400 feet and imposed criminal sanctions. The plaintiffs argued that these restrictions effectively banned drone use in these locations, even if a stadium requested drone coverage of a sporting event.
This decision could set a precedent for similar cases in other states. To view Judge Pitman’s ruling, follow this link.