An eye in the sky may soon be the norm at parades and other outdoor events in Illinois, thanks to a new law expanding Police departments' drone surveillance powers. Signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the law, which took effect immediately, allows local police to use drones at outdoor, government-hosted events, in response to 911 calls, and for other specific scenarios. However, “any political protest, march, demonstration, or other assembly protected by the First Amendment” is off-limits to drone surveillance.
The expanded powers allow law enforcement to use Police Drones at events such as parades, walks, races, concerts, or food festivals, with size requirements for drone use dependent on the size of the host municipality.
This development follows the tragic mass shootings at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora in 2019 and the July 4th parade in Highland Park in 2022.
Concerns from civil liberties groups led to added privacy protections and disclosure requirements in House Bill 3902.
Executive Director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Kenny Winslow, a supporter of the measure, highlighted the need for transparency and the requirement for police to post notices and keep records of flight paths when surveilling events.
He reportedly said, “We're trying to be as transparent with the public as we can.”
The ACLU of Illinois, long opponents of unrestricted drone use by police, took a neutral stance on the bill. ACLU attorney Liza Roberson-Young highlighted concerns that such technology could intrude on constitutional and privacy rights. To address this, the bill limits when police drones can be used, how long information collected can be stored, and under what circumstances this data can be retained.
The law also prohibits police from equipping drones with weapons, such as firearms or chemical irritants. Furthermore, it restricts the use of facial recognition technology with police drones. Non-compliance with the law can result in a police department losing drone authority for at least six months.
Beryl Lipton, a researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out that other surveillance technologies could still infringe on civil liberties, calling for local conversations about appropriate police technology use.
She said, “There should be a municipal, local conversation about surveillance.”
Photo courtesy of John Badman / The Telegraph
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