Cops can’t attach weapons to drones in Illinois, starting today — and they can’t use drones for facial recognition unless they’re attempting to counter a terrorist attack, preventing “imminent harm to life,” or making sure a suspect doesn’t get away.
But they can do something they couldn’t before in Illinois: fly over public events at all.
Today, the state signed the Drones as First Responders Act into law (via Hacker News). The new act modifies another one from 2014 — the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, which has banned law enforcement from using drones to “gather information” in the state (aside from terrorist or imminent harm situations) for the past seven years.
The new bill is designed to prevent shootings like the one at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade last year, which state senator Julie Morrison argued could have been prevented if not for that 2014 law. But it also limits drone weaponization and facial recognition over “concerns about drone surveillance and privacy,” according to a release from Sen. Morrison.
Today’s changes also let law enforcement help conduct infrastructure inspections, and help first responders with their drones.
Here’s the new restriction on weaponization:
Sec. 18 Use of weapons. A law enforcement agency operating a drone under this Act is prohibited from equipping or using on a drone any firearm, weaponized laser, kinetic impact projectile, chemical agent or irritant, or any other lethal or non-lethal weapon.
Law enforcement also still have to destroy information their drones collect within 30 days, unless it’s relevant to an investigation, but there are new exceptions if the data is “used exclusively for training purposes,” or only contains metadata. Cops are also now prohibited from selling any information their drones collect.
A number of states have banned weaponized drones in some form or another: the National Conference of State Legislators keeps this handy list of drone laws enacted across each state — and as of 2017, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin had all barred police from using armed drones, according to CBS News. Florida banned it later that year. Ohio is considering a ban as well.
There’s also an open question over whether other forms of police robots should be able to kill suspects. San Francisco initially approved the use of robot deadly force in extreme situations last November, only to reverse the policy a week later after an outcry. Dallas used a bomb disposal robot to kill a deadly sniper in 2016.
The FAA has asked the public not to attach any form of weapon to their drones. There’s a $25,000 fine.
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