Illinois now lets police fly drones over events, but not with weapons or facial recognition

Police officers can’t attach guns to drones in Illinois as of today — and they can’t use drones for facial recognition unless they’re trying to counter a terrorist attack, prevent “imminent harm to life” or make sure a suspect doesn’t don’t get away.

But they can do something they couldn’t before in Illinois: fly over public events not at all.

Today the state signed Drones as First Responders Act in law (via Hacker news). The new law amends another law from 2014 – the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, which has banned law enforcement from using drones to “gather information” in the state for the past seven years (beyond terrorist or threat of harm situations).

The new bill aims to prevent shootings such as the one at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade last year, where Senator Julie Morrison stood argued could have been prevented had it not been for the 2014 law. But it also restricts drone weaponry and facial recognition because of “concerns about drone surveillance and privacy”. according to a release from Senator Morrison.

Today’s changes also allow law enforcement to conduct infrastructure inspections and assist first responders with their drones.

This is the new restriction on weaponry:

sec. 18 Use of weapons. A law enforcement agency operating a drone under this Act may not equip or use any firearm, weaponized laser, kinetic impact projectile, chemical agent or irritant or any other lethal or non-lethal weapon on a drone.

Law enforcement also still must destroy information their drones collect within 30 days unless it is relevant to an investigation, but there are new exceptions if the data is “used for training purposes only” or contains only metadata. Agents are also now prohibited from selling information their drones collect.

A number of states have banned weaponized drones in one form or another: The National Conference of State Legislatures stands firm this handy list of drone laws enacted in every state – and as of 2017 Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin had all banned police from using armed drones, according to CBS News. Florida banned it later that year. Ohio is considering a ban also.