Chicago protestors may soon have to worry about police drones recording their images, a Logan Square alderman told supporters.
In a May newsletter, Alderman Scott Waguespack warned that proposed state legislation could send surveillance drones over Women’s Marchers and other protestors. (Waguespack serves in the 32nd Ward, which includes part of Logan Square.) State Senator Marty Sandoval and State Representative John D’Amico sponsored the bill. It also has the support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“There is a push by Senator Marty Sandoval and Mayor Emanuel to gut the state drone laws that were introduced in 2013,” Waguespack said. “This push by the mayor is wrongheaded and will weaken individual privacy.”
Bill Amends Biss Legislation
Senate Bill 2562 passed the Illinois State Senate May 2 and the House is now reviewing it. The legislation would amend the 2013 “Illinois Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act,” which restricted drone use.
That bill, sponsored by State Sen. Daniel Biss, allowed police to use drones only in certain cases. Under the bill, Illinois law enforcement can employ the vehicles with a warrant and if there is a risk of terrorist attack. Drones can also help police prevent imminent harm, find escaped suspects or missing persons, or take crime-scene photography. The new amendment would add surveillance for “safety and security at a large-scale event” to that list.
Waguespack introduced a Chicago ordinance in 2015 that also restricted drone use, he told his supporters. That ordinance banned the use of drones “for the purpose of conducting surveillance unless expressly permitted by law.”
The alderman said Sandoval’s amendment “guts groundbreaking legislation passed … requiring a judicial warrant for the use of drones by police in Illinois.” Biss similarly criticized the amendment, tweeting to his followers to help stop it. “SB2562 guts drone privacy protections and allows terrifying government surveillance of protestors,” Biss wrote.
Sandoval said his bill would help protect crowds from violence. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and last year’s shooting at a Las Vegas concert inspired the amendment, he said. Sandoval mentioned that the Las Vegas shooter had booked a hotel room overlooking Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival that same year.
“I don’t want Chicago to be the site of the next Vegas-style outdoor terrorist attack,” Sandoval said in a post on his website.
The senator noted that Los Angeles and Boston already use drones to monitor crowds. He said his bill won’t affect privacy, characterizing the amendment as a small change.
“While the bill increases crowd security, it does not repeal any of the protections of the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act,” Sandoval said. “The bill simply adds crowd safety to a list of exceptions that allows drone usage.”
Don’t Trust Chicago PD?
But the past suggests that Chicago police would abuse drone surveillance powers, the Illinois ACLU said in a statement.
“Given Chicago’s history of surveillance against protestors and social justice advocates … the Chicago police should not be able to use this new, powerful tool to monitor protestors near silently and from above,” the ACLU’s Karen Sheley, director of the group’s Police Practices Project, said in the statement.
Sheley mentioned, as an example, Chicago’s Red Squads. Those police units infiltrated political groups in the 30s and 60s in various U.S. cities.
Ald. Waguespack shared similar concerns about Chicago law enforcement.
“The Chicago Police Department does not have a good history of following privacy laws,” he said. He pointed to his 2016 criticism of recent police surveillance of protest groups.
Tracking Protestors’ Faces
The ACLU noted that both the House and Senate bills “allow drones to be used to make video, audio and still recordings of crowds.” And “worse,” the ACLU said, the aircraft can “be equipped with facial recognition technology.”
“Imagine now as police can track you at the Women’s March, a rally against abuses of special education children or a police pension protest, all tracked by police without a judicial warrant,” Waguespack said. “And now, adding drone cameras to take your picture and store it in a database for an unlimited time.”
Those capabilities could scare protestors into staying home, Matthew McLoughlin, of the National Lawyers Guild of Chicago, said in an In These Times piece.
“If this bill passes, it will set a dangerous precedent for other communities across the country,” he said. The legislation will “serve as a serious deterrent for anyone considering taking to the streets in protest.”
Protection vs. Privacy
In a video on his website, Sandoval maintained that the bill would only help police protect crowds.
“I think it was very important that we give law enforcement every possible tool to protect the public interest,” he said.
Waguespack asked his supporters to help him oppose the bill. It is currently being read and debated in the House.
“I urge you to call your state legislators and stop the gutting of the state law on use of drones,” he said.