About six years ago, Illinois passed a law requiring the Chicago Police Department to obtain warrants before using drones for surveillance purposes. As the law now stands, police officers can spy on public events if there is suspicion of criminal activity along with a warrant obtained from a judge. Now, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies in the state legislature are pushing for a new bill that would remove the requirement for a warrant - particularly when there is a high-risk event, including terrorism, loss of life, missing persons, and or monitoring a crime scene.
Mayor Emanuel is doing what his critics of mass surveillance have feared the most, unleash an unprecedented wave of police spy drones with facial recognition software at public events, more importantly at public protests.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the current drone law “makes sense,” as it provides an equilibrium between keeping Chicagoans and respecting their rights. The law had overwhelming support in the Legislature when it was enacted six-years ago by the Illinois Senate (52-1), and the Illinois House of Representatives (105-12).
However, there is a compelling movement within the elite political circles of Illinois to gut the current drone law.
The new bill, pushed by Mayor Emanuel, would “eliminate the requirement that the police obtain a warrant for the drone surveillance of large-scale events,” said the Chicago Sun-Times.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Source: Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sounded the alarm about the bill, noting that the modifications in the law would allow Chicago police to surveil citizens and even use facial recognition software at public events, including protests. The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
“If this bill is passed, as drafted, during the next large-scale political rally, drones could identify and list people protesting the Trump administration,” added [Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU’s Police Practices Project].
“The sight of drones overhead, collecting information, may deter people from protesting in a time when so many want to exercise their First Amendment rights….This is too much-unchecked power to give to the police—in Chicago or anywhere.”
While the bill states the spy drone use would be “limited to legitimate public safety purposes,” the Chicago Sun-Times says the “vague collection of words” in the bill could be seen as a major deterioration of Chicagoans’ First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. Further, the Chicago Sun-Times questions: Who decides what is “legitimate?”
The city has had a long history of the Chicago Police Department spying on its citizens. The police began using Red Squads in the late 1800s, which are specialized police intelligence units that infiltrate, conduct counter-measures and gather intelligence on political and social groups during periods of unrest.
Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said, “this is a city with a history of sending people out to record protesters. Now imagine doing it with facial recognition technology.”
The drone bill’s proponents indicate that police need the eyes in the sky for the effective management of large events like Lollapalooza.
“People aren’t thinking all that carefully about it,” state Sen. Daniel Biss said of lawmakers who voted to pass the bill. Biss sponsored the 2013 law that set guidelines for police to use drones.
“The proposed changes would give powerful people in law enforcement and city halls the ability to develop a database of every person at a protest,” Biss told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s really, really dangerous,” he added.
Chicago mayoral spokesperson Julienn Kaviar responded to an email from the Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman that read “the proposed updates would not change the existing privacy protections and limitations under the current law.”
The Chicago Sun-Times made it quite obvious that their stance was overwhelmingly negative against the new bill. The editorial piece stated:
“This bill would undercut the law’s important protections for people who want to engage in peaceful protests. It would give cops free rein to take video of every single protester at any kind of large event, public or private. It would leave law enforcement unchecked. It would tell people who want to use their voices to criticize the president, the mayor, the police or powerful companies that somebody’s watching them — too closely.”
Welcome To 1984: Big Brother Chicago is about to watch every Chicagoans’ move during public events via spy drones using facial recognition software.