A bill allowing police to use drones for surveillance of large events is still alive at the statehouse despite failing to get enough votes Friday.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 2562 earlier this month 36-2. When it was brought up in the House on Friday, it didn’t find nearly that level of support. Rather, there was plenty of bipartisan opposition.

The bill would allow police to get a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, at events with more than 100 people to conduct public safety surveillance. The measure would require a report on such use every year.

State Rep. Michael McAuliffe, R-Chicago, said the measure will help law enforcement watch over large gatherings in public places.

“If another city championship or state championship would happen and there was a large gathering at Grant Park, I’m sure that the drone system would be used there in case, just in case, somebody wanted to harm people that that way law enforcement can find who the people are and act quickly,” McAuliffe said. “We don't want a repeat of Las Vegas. Not in the city of Chicago, not anywhere in this state.”

More than 50 people were killed and hundreds injured in October when a gunman fired on an outdoor country music festival from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel.

Khadine Bennett, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said she opposed the bill as it was written. She said drone surveillance wouldn't have stopped the Las Vegas shooting from happening.

“Unless they knew exactly what window that shooter was in, they would have never been able to use a drone to identify them unless they were using a drone to peak into everyone’s hotel room and that violates people’s privacy,” Bennett said.

Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, opposed the bill, calling it “Orwellian.”

“It will create a chilling environment upon public discourse if what we do is know that there’s somebody looking over our shoulder who someday might be able to use that against us.” Reick said. “I’m troubled by this bill.”

Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, also opposed the bill.

“So Merriam-Webster [Dictionary] characterizes a police state as a political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and life by an arbitrary exercise of power by police,” Williams said. “We are getting wildly close to that here.”

Williams said she worried if the measure passed, drones could be used at benign gatherings like children’s baseball games or large picnics. That concern was echoed by state Rep. Andre Thapedi, who worried about block parties being monitored in south Chicago.

Lawmakers also raised concerns that the bill would allow for facial recognition technology that could scan crowds and catalog the identity of participants.

Supporters of the bill said such technology isn’t being used by law enforcement.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, pointed to news reports of police departments using Amazon's facial recognition software.

“The technology is here,” Butler said.

Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said state law allows police to use drones for surveillance after getting a warrant from a judge.

“It concerns me that we want to expand this here,” Skillicorn said. “It's not that hard to get a warrant. It’s not that hard to get probable cause. I say that we stick to that burden.”

State Rep. John Cabello, R-Rockford, supported the measure.

“We ask law enforcement to do and keep us safe at all times but then we don’t give them tools to utilize to be able to do that and then we criticize because they didn’t keep us safe or they didn’t stop what was taking place quick enough,” Cabello said. “There is no expectation of privacy in public places. There are cameras all over the United States.”

After the bill garnered 54 votes – not enough to pass the House – bill sponsor John D’Amico, D-Chicago, placed the bill on postponed consideration, meaning the measure could be brought up for another vote.


Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for INN. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “The Council Roundup,” as well as “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.

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