A First Amendment challenge to a Texas law limiting drone photography may move forward, a federal district court in Texas recently ruled. The suit, brought by the National Press Photographers Association, the Texas Press Association and a Texas reporter, challenged a state law that declares it unlawful to use “an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in [Texas] with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property in the image.”
The plaintiffs challenged the law on several First Amendment grounds. The court agreed that the plaintiffs have sufficiently shown that the regulations constitute speaker-based, and thus content-based, discrimination, subjecting the regulation to strict scrutiny. The statute exempts drone operators who use the devices “on behalf of an institution of higher education.” In addition, the law exempts “commercial” drone users from no-fly bans over correctional facilities, detention facilities, critical infrastructure sites or sports venues.