86th LegislatureIssuesState HouseAmazon-Backed Drone Bill Killed by Tinderholt, Gooden Over Privacy Concerns

The legislation was headed for passage in the House until Rep. Tinderholt took to the floor and revealed how the drone bill threatened Texans' privacy.
May 9, 2019
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Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R- Arlington) successfully killed a bill yesterday that would have expanded the lawful use of drones.

In a surprising turn of events, HB 4448 failed to pass the House on third reading. On Tuesday, it had received the overwhelming support of members when it passed the second read with a vote of 105-30. However, by the time it came back to the floor on Wednesday for a final vote before being sent to the Senate, Rep. Tinderholt had convinced at least 55 representatives to change their votes. 

Before yesterday’s vote, the seemingly uncontroversial bill moved through the legislative process with little fanfare. It had no witnesses testify for or against it when heard in committee, but it was backed by Amazon.

HB 4448 was described by the bill’s author, Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), as a “cleanup bill” with “one substantive change to the law.” That change is what ultimately killed it.  

The bill would have expanded Texas law to allow the use of drones to capture images of private property for commercial purposes. These purposes would have included items such as taking pictures of packages ordered through the internet and delivered by drone.

The Texan Mug

However, the language in the bill was ambiguous and would have arguably allowed for taking pictures during the entirety of a delivery drone flight, so long as the purpose of the flight was to deliver a package.

In a letter addressed to the 86th Legislature, Congressman Lance Gooden (R-TX-05) wrote, “the drone could map private property without the consent of other owners of property that have no connection to the goods or the drone device. This overbroad language would unduly allow any variety of government entities to tread over personal privacy rights.”

In addition to the concerns over the privacy of property owners, Congressman Gooden emphasized national security concerns he had with the language in the bill.

The move by a federal lawmaker to send a letter to state lawmakers over legislation making its way through the state legislature is unusual, which underscored the seriousness with which Gooden viewed the issue.

He said, “this bill is being pushed by a Chinese drone manufacturer, DJI. In August 2017, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau office published a bulletin, asserting that DJI is likely providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

During the committee hearing on April 8, Jordan Gross, a representative of DJI Technologies, registered as a witness on the bill, but did not testify.

The entire referenced bulletin was included with the letter and states that it is based on information from open source reporting and a “reliable source within the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry.”

The report goes into detail regarding DJI’s activities including market targeting of U.S. companies in the critical infrastructure and law enforcement sectors, and automatically uploading information collected by drones to cloud storage locations in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.

The entire bulletin can be viewed below.

Congressman Gooden’s letter goes on to say, “The US Army, Homeland Security and ICE have all ceased using DJI due to national security concerns.”

The letter concludes by urging the Texas Legislature to “reject HB 4448 to protect our national security, Texans’ individual liberties, and our shared right to privacy.”

Rep. Tinderholt’s impassioned floor speech and Congressman Gooden’s urgent letter was apparently taken to heart when House members reversed course and summarily killed HB 4448.

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Katie Fisher

Katie Fisher

Katie Fisher is a licensed attorney and writer with a broad range of political, private sector, and ministry experience. A California transplant, Katie earned her J.D. at the age of 21 from Oak Brook College of Law, subsequently passing the bar exam and going into private law practice. Texas became home when she moved to Houston to serve as the Deputy Director of Delegate Operations for the 2016 Cruz for President campaign. She currently resides in the Austin area with her husband and daughter.