Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker approved a new law in June of this year, bolstering the power of local police departments to utilize drones in specific situations, ranging from monitoring public events to attending emergency calls.
The legislation, known as House Bill 3902, sailed through both legislative chambers with a Senate vote of 56-1 and a House tally of 84-7. While its passage indicates robust support, the bill wasn't without detractors. Concerns from civil liberty entities eventually resulted in the addition of privacy safeguards and mandatory disclosure norms.
The inception of this drone-related proposal can be traced back to a tragic mass shooting at Aurora's Henry Pratt Company in 2019. The urgency for such a measure was reignited following another shooting at a Highland Park parade on July 4, 2022.
Kenny Winslow, heading the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, expressed his endorsement of the legislation, emphasizing the life-saving potential of Drone Technology.
Winslow stated, “We're trying to be as transparent with the public as we can,” further lauding the bill's inclusion of protective clauses. These provisions require police to display notices during drone surveillance and to maintain a record of their flight paths.
However, not everyone holds a positive stance on unrestricted drone usage by the police. The ACLU of Illinois, previously instrumental in sculpting the 2013 Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, remained neutral.
An ACLU attorney, Liza Roberson-Young shared her reservations, remarking, “Our concern is that this kind of technology can be used in fairly invasive ways that intrude on our constitutional and privacy rights.”
The enacted law establishes boundaries for drone operation. They can only operate during outdoor, government-hosted events such as parades and concerts, provided these events meet set size criteria. Explicitly, the law states that drones cannot be used to oversee “any political protest, march, demonstration, or other assembly protected by the First Amendment.”
Furthermore, when deployed during 911 responses, drones' primary purpose is to locate victims, assist in health or safety situations, or liaise with emergency services. All data obtained via drones — whether imagery, audio, or otherwise — faces storage restrictions. It must be deleted within 24 hours post-events or within 30 days for other uses, barring certain exemptions.
To ensure adherence to these stipulations, the Illinois Attorney General's office retains the right to probe police departments' drone activities. Departments found breaching the law can face a drone ban, which may stretch up to a year for repeat violations.
The Countryside Illinois Police Department follows many departments around the country that have turned to drones from Chinese manufacturer DJI to keep their communities safe.
The DJI M30T drone, equipped with a thermal camera, was delivered by Aerial Influence.
Photos courtesy of Aerial Influence.
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