Earlier today, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law Senate Bill 1587, a measure that places appropriate and reasonable guidelines on the use of unmanned surveillance aircraft (drones) by state or local law enforcement agencies in Illinois.  Most importantly, it requires police to obtain a warrant, subject to narrow exemptions, such as emergencies.  It also limits retention and sharing of information collected by drones, and requires police departments with drones to publicly disclose the number of their drones.  The measure was adopted by wide margins in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly during the Spring 2013 session.   Local law enforcement agencies across the nation are exploring the use of drone technology as part of their information-gathering efforts.  In Illinois, the Illinois National Guard and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office have experimented with the use of drones and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office has expressed an interest in obtaining the technology. 

The following can be attributed to Mary Dixon, Legislative Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois:

We are pleased that Governor Pat Quinn has acted today to sign Senate Bill 1587 into law.   The measure, which won broad support in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, provides basic privacy protections for all residents in Illinois when state or local law enforcement officials use drone surveillance technology.   The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an independent judge before using a drone, subject to narrow exemptions, such as emergencies.  We are grateful that the law enforcement community in Illinois participated in discussions that led to the final version of this bill, paving the way for its smooth passage.

This measure demonstrates that it is possible to place appropriate and reasonable guidelines on emerging technologies that ensure privacy for average residents in Illinois.   While Congress has failed so far to modernize our on-line privacy laws (the most current update was completed in the 1980s, before most of us had access to the internet) we urge the Illinois General Assembly to continue to explore further ways that it can protect communications and location privacy for residents of our state.

The ACLU of Illinois also wants to extend a special note of thanks to the sponsors of this legislation, Senator Daniel Biss and Representative Ann Williams, who skillfully navigated the measure through the Senate and House.  We are appreciative of their leadership and vision on this issue.