Government drones can’t snoop on us under new law

This undated file photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows an unmanned drone used to patrol the U.S.-Canadian border. (AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

This undated file photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows an unmanned drone used to patrol the U.S.-Canadian border. (AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

A new law that prohibits police from using drones without a warrant to track citizens was signed today by Gov. Pat Quinn.

People are familiar with the larger drones that patrol our borders or war zones. But some of the unmanned aerial vehicles are so small they can fly around unnoticed, carrying high-power zoom lenses and night vision and see-through imaging equipment. Think you are alone and unobserved in your backyard or house? Not if a drone is around that can monitor you in your lawn or through your windows.

Drones can be put to many beneficial uses. They monitor wildfires, keep tabs on crops and track  wildlife. They can help find missing people. Fire departments can fly them over burning buildings to help guide firefighters.

Drones also are becoming more popular with police departments. The Greenfield, Ind., police department, for example, earlier this month got its own drone quadcopter, a remote-control-operated helicopter with a mount on the bottom where users can attach a camera, according to the Associated Press. The drone will be used mostly to take aerial photos and video of accident scenes, the police chief said.

But most of us probably don’t want authorities using those same drones to track us. Now, if authorities in Illinois are curious about our movements, they will need to persuade a judge there’s a good reason they should be allowed to track us with a drone.

Chief sponsor State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) said the legislation was prompted by “the rapid deregulation of drones at the federal level.”

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