A heated debate over drones May 25 had the full attention of the House, with almost a dozen Republican lawmakers arguing the proposal.
When introducing SB2562, all sponsor Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago) said was that it was a drone bill for Chicago, leaving out key details that lawmakers wanted to know much more about.
Before the debate began, Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) asked for a roll call verification on the bill and called it a disturbing extension of surveillance before Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) took the floor.
Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago)
Like Cassidy, Breen said the original bill sponsored by Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) was significantly affected by the proposal to allow law enforcement officers to use drones with facial recognition technology for public-safety monitoring at events with more than 100 people.
“What protections are there for folks to not be tracked permanently in your bill?” Breen asked.
Only the military has the ability to save facial recognition data, D’Amico said.
But just because the city of Chicago does not have that ability today does not mean it will not in the future, said Breen.
“Is there anything in the statue that allows for the destruction of the data gathered from the drones?” Breen asked.
D’Amico answered 30 days.
Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-Chicago) then recalled the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, noting lawmakers do not want a tragedy that could be prevented by the bill. Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) questioned the allowed use for drone surveillance.
“You’re not going after underage drinking or things like that, you are just going after public safety,” Davidsmeyer said.
After confirming, D’Amico was confronted by Rep. Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee), who pointed out that the proposal was initiated by the city of Chicago, which already has the authority to use drones under a court order. With an approved consensus by the House and the rest of Illinois on strict drone regulation, Skillicorn asked why go any further.
“In this environment, do we really want our government operating without court orders and warrants?” Skillicorn asked, adding Gov. Bruce Rauner is using drones to spy for political purposes completely unrelated to public safety and terrorism.
“It concerns me that we want to expand this here,” Skillicorn said.
Unlike his GOP peers, Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) said a drone is no different than a police officer on the roof with a pair of binoculars, but with D’Amico’s bill law enforcement would have the ability to move locations. Though Wehrli noted there could not be too much safety for huge crowds, Rep. Steven Reick (R-Woodstock) raised facial recognition concerns.
“We are talking about technology as it exists today; we are not talking about technology as it will exist in 20 years,” Reick said, adding, it's just a matter of time before drone use will be commercially available. “Those drones can look over your shoulder and see what you are texting on your cellphone.”
Though Reick said he, too, wants to balance the rights of public safety and civil liberties, the bill as written is somewhat of an Orwellian reach into crowd control. “It will create a chilling environment,” Reick said.
Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) in proving Reick’s point is now a reality shared how in China a man was recently arrested within minutes due to facial recognition technology when he attended a large-scale event.
Rep. Steve Andersson (R-Geneva) brought up the definition of large-scale events and how D’Amico’s bill defines that at just 100 people.
“The threshold is too low,” Andersson said, adding lawmakers are challenging liberty rights. “Yes life is important, but liberty is how we protect ourselves.”
While Rep. John Cabello (R-Machesney) said passing the bill could save one life, Rep. Thomas Morrison (R-Palatine) concluded the GOP part of the debate, saying if the bill passed he could only hope the legislation would not be abused by noting the importance of reporting on the device use annually.
Passing by only five votes at 54-49, D’Amico pulled his bill from the record for postponed consideration, proving the debate made a marked difference even in the sponsor's opinion of the drone use.