A lawsuit seeking to strike down a Texas law that restricts drone photography can proceed, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman rejected a request by state officials to dismiss the lawsuit, ruling that two journalism organizations and a reporter raised substantive points questioning the law’s constitutionality.
The lawsuit argues that the 2013 law places improper limits on news gathering, violating the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee by making it a crime to capture images of private property, or a person on that property, no matter where the drone is flying.
The lawsuit also challenges the law’s ban on using drones with the “intent to conduct surveillance,” arguing that the phrase is not defined and is vague enough to include most news-gathering activities, allowing for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
In his order, Pitman rejected the state’s argument that “surveillance” is commonly understood to exclude most news gathering operations.
“The scope of what the Surveillance Provisions prohibit is not itself clear,” Pitman wrote in an order delivered Monday, adding that “it is not clear what is or is not criminalized or prohibited under the provisions.”
Lawyers for those challenging the law — the National Press Photographers Association, the Texas Press Association (of which the American-Statesman is a member) and freelance journalist Joseph Pappalardo — said they hoped “to see the law struck down as unconstitutional soon.”
“That our constitutional challenge to one of the most restrictive drone statutes in the country will continue is a victory for the First Amendment, and for tenacious and innovative visual journalism,” the legal team said in a statement.
This is a developing story.