Aaron Tucek, '19, on Illinois Surveillance Drone Bill

What do we say to Big Brother? Not today

In 2013, the Illinois General Assembly passed landmark legislation protecting residents from government surveillance drones. Now they want to roll back those protections and jeopardize the privacy of any person who exercises their right to peacefully assemble. This legislation is bad for human freedom and wrong for Illinois.

Imagine a world in which the government is always watching. At a Fourth of July parade, police drones pass above the parade route every few minutes, facial recognition cameras scanning the crowd. Officers pull aside and question people who stand out from the crowd because they look different, or have a traffic violation, or a history of public civil disobedience. At a high school homecoming football game, the process repeats itself. The facial recognition drones softly buzz above the stadium, cataloging the crowd, seeking out even the slightest hint of suspicious behavior. At a protest against yet another police shooting of a young black man, the drones are back. Scanning, seeking, ready to call forth the pepper spray and handcuffs and silence the criticism.

A bill working its way through the Illinois legislature would legally authorize this chilling reality. Senate Bill 2562 would allow the police to use surveillance drones at any gathering of more than 100 people for “legitimate public safety purposes.” These purposes include (but are not limited to): “evaluating crowd size, density, or movement; assessing public safety vulnerabilities or weaknesses; determining appropriate staffing levels for law enforcement or other public safety personnel; or identifying possible criminal activity.” Police already have the power to use drones in response to dangerous situations. What this legislation adds — and which current law explicitly rejects — is the active, continuous, and suspicion-less surveillance by drone of anyone and everyone at an event.

Read more at International Human Rights Clinic