A bill which would restrict drone spying to the point of near extinction passed the Illinois State Senate by a vote of 52-1 on Thursday.

If signed into law, SB1587 would prohibit law enforcement angencies from using unmanned drones to gather evidence or other information without a warrant.  It reads, in part:  “A law enforcement agency may not use a drone to gather evidence or other information.”

The act does leave the door open for some drone use, but is very restrictive about what could be authorized.  It’s prime exception allows for the use of drones “to counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is such a risk.”

In addition, the bill would permit law enforcement agencies to use drones when attempting to locate a missing person as long as that flight was “not also undertaking a criminal investigation.”  And it would allow a drone to be used to review a crime scene and take traffic crash scene photography.  Any information gathered by a drone would have to be destroyed within 30 days unless the information is proven to contain evidence of criminal activity or is relevant to a trial or investigation.

The Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act passed 52-1.  (See the roll call HERE)

Sponsoring Sen. Daniel Biss told colleagues the “people of Illinois have a reasonable expectation for privacy.”

“The technology available to law enforcement agencies is evolving rapidly,” said Biss. “I want Illinois to take a pro-active 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.”

“I believe it achieves a delicate balance between security and freedom,” he said before the full Senate vote.

SB1587 has been transmitted to the state house, where its chief sponsor is Rep. Ann Williams.  The bill has been referred to the Rules Committee where it’ll need a hearing and vote before the full house can concur and send the bill to the Governor’s desk.

Some activists have criticized the bill due to various exceptions allowing for limited drone use. While these exceptions do raise legitimate concerns, as things exist today,  Illinois have no protections against drone.

1.  The DHS can call on Illinois to use drones for any “non-emergency” situation it wants.

2. The DHS can call on Illinois to use drones for any emergency situation it wants.

3. Law enforcement in Illinois can use drones in any situation they want.

Passage of the bill would eliminate number one and most of number three,  so this bill ushers in a MASSIVE improvement over the status quo.

“As it is now, law enforcement agencies in Illinois can use drones any time, anywhere with absolutely no parameters. If the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act becomes law, drone use will be extremely limited and circumscribed. I understand the concern some activists have expressed. I share those concerns. But the thought of passing nothing and ending up with absolutely no limits on drone use would concern me a lot more,” Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey said.

Without any action by the Illinois legislature, the only thing standing between the people there and a full-fledged drone surveillance state is a little funding.

And that’s coming down the pike.

At this stage in the ‘drone game,’ the feds are working hard behind the scenes to get states to operate the drones for them.

In fact, the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance being carried out by states and local communities is the Federal government itself. Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so that those agencies can purchase drones. Those grants, in and of themselves, are an unconstitutional expansion of power.

The goal? Fund a network of drones around the country and put the operational burden on the states. Once the create a web over the whole country, DHS steps in with requests for ‘information sharing.’ Bills like these put a dent in this kind of long-term strategy. Without the states and local communities operating the drones today, it’s going to be nearly impossible for DHS plans to – take off.

In fact, this has been as much as confirmed by a drone industry lobbyist who testified in opposition to a similar bill in Washington State, saying that such restrictions would be extremely destructive to the drone market and industry.

While the The Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act might not be the perfect bill, it is a solid bill providing parameters for drone use. Pass the bill now and then move forward with further restrictions in the future once basic regulation is in place.

A NO vote on SB1587 is a vote in FAVOR of unlimited drone spying by everyone in Illinois.

ACTION ITEMS for Illinois

1.  Call the Chair of the House Rules Committee.  Politely encourage her to hold a hearing on SB1587 and to pass the legislation without weakening the restrictions in any way.

Representative Barbara Flynn Currie
(217) 782-8121

2. Call the rest of the House Rules Committee members. Strongly, but respectfully, encourage them to vote YES on SB1587

Contact info here:


If you’re outside of Illinois, please contact your own legislators regarding anti-drone legislation. If none has been introduced in your state, you can email them The Privacy Protection Act model legislation.

Track the status of drone nullification in states around the country HERE

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