In a move to enhance public safety, Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois has signed a bill granting law enforcement increased access to the use of drones at public events. The decision comes nearly a year after the tragic mass shooting incident in Highland Park, prompting the authorization of surveillance drone usage during parades, races, and concerts.
Senator Julie Morrison, who personally witnessed the Highland Park shooting, expressed strong support for the legislation, stating, "It's simple: drones will save lives," in an email. She stressed the importance of equipping law enforcement with modern tools and training, particularly during the busy festival and parade season.
The new law marks a departure from the previous restrictions on police drone usage in Illinois, which were limited to situations involving potential terrorist threats or disaster response and required specific legal warrants. The legislation now expands the scenarios in which drones can be deployed, including planned special events, non-criminal search and rescue missions, and infrastructure inspections.
Nevertheless, certain boundaries remain firmly in place. Drones must be unarmed and operated exclusively by law enforcement, with restrictions on their deployment at political events. Public notifications are mandatory whenever drones are used during public functions. Representative Barbara Hernandez affirmed during the floor debate that the legislation serves a specific purpose and will not allow drones to be used indiscriminately in any community.
The bill passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, although it has faced criticism from some quarters. Senator Rachel Ventura raised concerns about potential privacy violations, emphasizing the need to strike a balance between freedom and safety.
One crucial aspect of the law relates to facial recognition technology, which can only be employed under specific high-risk circumstances. This provision addresses concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding the potential tracking of immigrants without legal status.
Additionally, the law mandates that drone footage be deleted after 24 hours unless it is required for criminal investigations. Law enforcement agencies are also required to file reports detailing the circumstances and reasons for drone usage.
Senator Linda Holmes, the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate, views this legislation as potentially one of the most significant in her career, highlighting its ability to provide critical information and enable rapid, lifesaving actions by law enforcement and first responders.