SPRINGFIELD — If Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart ever gets his drone, he could face a series of restrictions on how it can be used.
The Illinois Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a measure aimed at putting in place aerial drone regulations for law enforcement agencies wishing to use Illinois airspace.
The proposal requires that law enforcement would have to get search warrants before using drones for examining private property. Warrants would not be required for drones to patrol over state-owned lands, highways or roads.
In addition, the bill would permit law enforcement agencies to use drones when attempting to locate a missing person. And it would allow a drone to be used to review a crime scene and take traffic crash scene photography.
Any information gathered by a drone would have to be destroyed within 30 days unless the information is proven to contain evidence of criminal activity or is relevant to a trial or investigation.
Sponsoring Sen. Daniel Biss told colleagues the “people of Illinois have a reasonable expectation for privacy.”
“The technology available to law enforcement agencies is evolving rapidly,” said Biss. “I want Illinois to take a pro-active approach — recognizing that drones can make police work more efficient and keep officers out of harm’s way, but also acknowledging the potential threat they pose to individual liberties.”
But Biss’ bill contained one major change from when it was introduced in February: It now allows local drones to be armed by law enforcement. Originally, the proposal would have banned agencies from owning a drone equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons. Biss said he may try to push for the weapons ban down the road, but wanted to move ahead on the privacy concerns.
The bill passed 52-1 and moved to the House. Ed Yohnka, spokesman for ACLU of Illinois, said he looks forward to working with lawmakers in the other chamber on this “really important issue” and eventually sending it to the governor.
“It really is a critical step in regulating what I argue is a very powerful surveillance tool before that tool is widely used,” Yohnka said.
In late February, a Dart spokesman said the sheriff was in the “exploratory stages” of looking into drone technology for future operations. Dart's thinking is that drones would be cheaper to use and cost less taxpayer money than using helicopters for aerial operations, the spokesman said.
President Barack Obama has come under criticism for its handling of unmanned aerial operations overseas. The president signed a Federal Aviation Administration mandate last year requesting the agency allow unmanned drones into the federal airspace.
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