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The unmanned aerial system (UAS) – commonly known as a drone – is becoming more common in investigations. Many police departments now deploy special squads that utilize the UAS for a variety of law enforcement purposes. Private investigators also commonly call on the UAS to document accident scenes, search for missing persons, conduct security surveys, and for use in surveillance operations.

The commercial use of the UAS, however, requires licensing, insurance, and negotiation of an often confusing maze of federal, state, and local regulations in order to be in compliance. This includes any use by a private investigator. In Texas and a growing number of other states, it is illegal for private individuals to use an unmanned aircraft to conduct photographic surveillance.

The Texas Privacy Act of 2013 stipulates, “a person commits an offense if the person uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image.” Violation constitutes a Class C misdemeanor, the lowest of criminal penalties, but the law allows for civil damages of $5000 per episode of image capture and $10,000 for each episode in which illegally obtained images are used.

Texas still allows for UAS documentation of felony crime and accident scenes, and search and rescue activities. It also permits capture and use of images of property obtained with the consent of the owner or person occupying it.

Whereas some investigators might be willing to improperly employ the UAS, especially for a “low-risk” task such as verifying the presence of a specific vehicle inside a restricted access community, a true professional would insist on use that strictly complies with applicable laws.

When you retain the professionals of ResultQuest, rest assured that we will use drones only when legal and appropriate, and with the full knowledge and participation of the client. Call us at 713-781-9040 for helpful guidance.