The US National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) reports that “a federal judge has overturned the state of Texas’ drone restrictions, holding that it was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. District Judge Robert Pitman enjoined the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Highway Patrol from enforcing Chapter 423 of the Texas Government Code.”
The NPPA brought the lawsuit in 2019, challenging the law after members experienced problems using drones for news-gathering in the state. When the law was first proposed in 2013, NPPA urged the legislature to reject the bill which amounted to a broad ban on drone use for a wide range of purposes that included journalism.
The NPPA has also reported other incidents of concern, including a NPPA member Brandon Wade, a Dallas area freelancer, who was denied permission to fly his drone to document a publicly funded construction project based on the law, and NPPA member Billy Calzada, a staff photographer at the San Antonio Express-News, who was threatened with arrest after photographing the aftermath of a fatal fire with his drone. Both incidents were cited as examples of the impact that the law had on journalists.
The NPPA press release reports that in his opinion, Judge Pitman held that the process of creating photographs and video via a drone “finds just as much protection in the First Amendment as the images themselves do.” In doing so, he noted that “applying the Constitution’s protections to new technological contexts is far from a novel exercise.” Accordingly, the judge found that “as a matter of law, use of drones to document the news by journalists is protected expression and… implicates the First Amendment.”
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