The Illinois Senate today approved a bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston that would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before using a remote-controlled aircraft or drone to gather information.

If approved by the House, Senate Bill 1587 could become the first law of its kind in the nation.

“The technology available to law enforcement agencies is evolving rapidly,” said Biss, sponsor of several privacy measures this session. “I want Illinois to take a proactive approach — recognizing that drones can make police work more efficient and keep officers out of harm’s way, but also acknowledging the potential threat they pose to individual liberties.”

A law enforcement officer seeking to use an unmanned aerial vehicle would have to demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant, just as officers must now do before searching a home. Law enforcement agencies would also be required to disclose drone ownership; currently, there is no way to know how many drones are in use in the state and who owns them. Biss’ measure includes exceptions allowing a drone to be used without a warrant to film traffic accidents and crime scenes on public property and to search for missing persons.

“This measure enjoys bipartisan support because lawmakers on both sides of the aisle understand privacy to be a fundamental American value,” Biss said. “Today we’ve passed a piece of legislation that effectively balances the right to be left alone with the legitimate contributions drones may make to public safety.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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