Kadner: Illinois eyes regulations for drones
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org March 15, 2013 11:58PM
Illinois State senate candidate Michael Hastings thanks his supporters at his campaign headquarters at Georgios Banquets in Orland Park, Illinois, Tuesday, March 20, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:44AM
I can envision a day when Americans will demand that drones spy on them all the time.
Whether it’s reaction to a terrorist attack on U.S. soil or a crime spree in Chicago, people will feel safer under 24-7 video surveillance by the government.
Fortunately, we’re at the dawning of the American Drone Age.
That’s why a bill that would regulate the use of drones by law enforcement agencies in Illinois is making its way through the state Senate and has a good chance of becoming law.
One of the co-sponsors of the legislation is state Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Orland Hills), who has some unique credentials regarding the subject. A graduate of West Point, Hastings served with the U.S. Army in Iraq, where he earned the Bronze Star for meritorious conduct.
He was also trained in the use of drones that provided “real time video surveillance” in combat areas.
“State Sen. Dan Biss (D-Evanston) was the chief sponsor of the bill, and I think it does a good job of protecting the privacy of Illinois residents,” Hastings said. “I don’t think you want a drone sitting outside your office window spying on you.”
Concerns about the use, and potential abuse, of unmanned aerial vehicles has crossed political party lines.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) 13-hour filibuster on the floor of the Senate raised awareness, as he demanded to know if the president believed he had authorization to use an armed drone on U.S. soil against a U.S. citizen.
While the U.S. government’s use of drones to kill terrorists overseas has drawn attention, the domestic use of drones has failed to attract much public interest.
The Federation Aviation Administration has been tasked with drawing up regulations to allow unmanned vehicles to share airspace with passenger planes by 2015. Billions of dollars are being spent on research and development for the use of drones by law enforcement agencies, corporations and individuals.
The potential uses are endless. Drones can be used to map geography, plot construction developments, study the weather, search for lost children and track criminals.
This is likely to be one of the biggest technological developments to impact day-to-day life in this country since the Internet.
Virginia became the first state to pass a drone regulation law earlier this year. The Virginia General Assembly placed a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by state and local law enforcement.
Illinois Senate Bill 1587, known as the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, limits the use of drones by law enforcement agencies to a set of five specific criteria. They are:
1. To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security determines that credible intelligence indicates there is that risk.
2. If a law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant based on probable cause. ... The warrant must be limited to a period of 45 days, renewable by the judge upon a showing of good cause for subsequent periods of 45 days.
3. If a law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent harm to life or serious damage to property or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence. ... Within 24 hours of the initiation of the use of a drone under this paragraph, the chief executive officer of the law enforcement agency must report in writing the use of a drone to the local state’s attorney.
4. If a law enforcement agency is attempting to locate a missing person and is not also undertaking a criminal investigation.
5. If a law enforcement agency is using a drone solely for crime scene photography.’
The law also would limit the retention of information gathered by a drone for up to 30 days unless certain criteria are met.
In addition, if a law enforcement agency uses a drone, it is forbidden from disclosing any information gathered by the drone except to other law enforcement agencies if there is “reasonable suspicion that the information contains evidence of criminal activity” or “the information is relevant to an ongoing investigation or pending trial.”
For the most part, the law seems to comply with recommendations by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Personally, based on my experience as a newspaper reporter, I’m skeptical about that mention of an “ongoing investigation.”
When news organizations place requests under the Freedom of Information Act, law enforcement agencies often pull out the “ongoing investigation” exemption, even when cases are more than a decade old.
Who is authorized to verify that there is an “ongoing investigation?” That’s usually left up to the law enforcement agency, which allows it to cover up its mistakes.
The “ongoing investigation” loophole could allow police to retain information obtained from drones for years or decades.
I am also concerned about the potential use of drones by private companies, including news-gathering agencies.
The technology has become so sophisticated that it would easily allow for corporate spying. With millions of dollars invested in research and technology, there would be great temptation for corporate executives to spy on their rivals.
Drones also would provide a wonderful, cheap means of news-gathering for legitimate organizations as well as those who make fortunes by invading the private lives of celebrities.
Finally, any technology that becomes commonplace in this country will eventually make it into the hands of foreign nations.
They will spy on us, just as they have hacked into our computers.
And if we can justify the use of armed drones to kill our enemies, our enemies can do the same to us.