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Biss bill would revise drone law

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State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) has introduced legislation expanding restrictions enacted last year to prevent police from using aerial drones to infringe on individuals’ privacy rights.

His new proposal would prohibit law enforcement agencies from requiring private individuals or companies, except in certain emergencies, to hand over information gathered by drones they own.

The Senate Criminal Law Committee approved the plan today, clearing the way for a vote of the full Senate.

“The need to impose restrictions on drone usage is important so that our legal protections keep pace with advances in technology,” said Biss, who also sponsored last year’s Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act.

“As it became clear that individuals and corporations would also be using drones, we needed to put in place measures ensuring law enforcement could not bypass the warrant process by simply requisitioning footage collected by other people’s drones.”

Under current law, law enforcement agencies may use information collected by drones only if they first obtain a warrant from a judge, if the drone is being used to photograph a crime scene or traffic accident or to locate a missing person, if use of a drone is necessary to counter a terrorist attack or if officers reasonably suspect that swift action is needed to prevent imminent harm or the escape of a suspect.

If Senate Bill 2937 becomes law, police could also acquire and use information from privately owned drones in these cases. The new legislation adds one more exception: using a drone during a disaster. For instance, a drone could help locate trapped or injured survivors.

If police do gather information from drones in violation of state law, the footage is not admissible in court.

“It’s important we give law enforcement the tools necessary to do their job well, and drones can play a role in aiding during natural disasters and other emergencies,” Biss said. “Once we ensure that drones, whether they’re owned by Amazon, our neighbors or the local sheriff, aren’t being used to spy on us without probable cause, we can focus on the benefits of this technology.”

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