Discussing Drones

Drones have been a hot topic in the media nationwide with the FAA working to catch up with the technology and a drone landing on White House property this week. What are the current regulations in Chicago and Illinois? Can individuals and businesses use drones in a safe and responsible manner? Could future legislation hamper small business opportunities? We discuss drones with Steve Noel, owner of HobbyTown USA that sells drones in Orland Park, Jeff Antonelli, founder of Antonelli Law in Chicago representing clients filing petition for FAA exemption to fly drones commercially, and State Sen. Daniel Biss who has sponsored legislation restricting the use of drones in the state.

Read about current and proposed drone legislation in Illinois. 

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Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act
Signed into Law: 5/31/13 by Gov. Pat Quinn
Effective Date: 1/1/14
The law prohibits law enforcement agencies from using drones to collect information. Law enforcement agencies are permitted to use 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 that risk; if a law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judge authorizing the use of a drone; or if a law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent harm to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence. The law states drones used by law enforcement may not be equipped with any kind of lethal or non-lethal weapon. Information obtained or collected in violation of the law cannot be used as evidence in any criminal, civil, administrative or other proceedings. The law also establishes certain information retention and reporting requirements.

Amendment to the Fish and Aquatic Life Code
Introduced: 1/15/15 by Sen. Julie A. Morrison
The proposed amendment would make the use of a drone illegal when hunting or fishing. The proposal states the use of a drone as a fishing or hunting device “constitutes a public nuisance, making the drone subject to confiscation.” Hunters using drones could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

 State Sen. Julie MorrisonRead an interview with State Sen. Julie Morrison, who sponsored legislation that would make using drones for hunting illegal.

How did this legislation come about?

Last fall, the [Illinois] Department of Natural Resources came to me and suggested this legislation, and I was intrigued by it because I saw it as a way for the state to get ahead of a potential problem. This legislation basically prohibits the use of drones for taking wildlife and fish.

I’m surprised at the amount of interest. I’ve received a lot of support from conservationists and hunters, who think like I do and think that using drones to stalk and locate wildlife puts hunters at an unfair advantage. It takes the sport out of sportsmanship.

Other states have already enacted legislation—Montana, Colorado and Alaska—prohibiting drones in hunting, and the federal government has been sort of slow on their regulation of drones, so it’s sort of fallen to the states to deal with on an individual basis.

Did you draw from legislation passed in any of those states when crafting this bill?

No, I sort of drew from what made the most sense in Illinois. There are a lot of parallels [with other states’ legislation] and some differences…. One thing I would probably amend in the bill is the ability for the Department of Natural Resources to make exceptions [to the law] should there be some type of situation where there is an invasive animal or dangerous animal or wildlife that needs management. 

Several years ago, there was a mountain lion found in the Chicago area. Could that be an example of an exception to law, using a drone to track that animal?

Anything that is dangerous. I see a great advantage for search and rescue with drones. I can think of places that a drone can go through in a forest or flying above a river when a child is lost or a camper is missing. There are lots of wonderful applications for drones, but we need to be careful and aware of some of the abuses.

So far, reception by hunters has been positive?

For generations, hunters always had to develop skills. It’s part of the challenge of recreational hunting, being able to track an animal, not just fire a gun or a bow and arrow. It’s about being in wildlife’s environment. It’s the sportsman part of it. Those hunters that I’ve talked to supported this. They didn’t want somebody to pull up in an SUV, sit in a warm car, throw their drone out the window to track and locate what they’re hunting, and then get out and kill it.

The bill was recently introduced; what has the response been so far by other legislators?

It’s just been introduced, so I haven’t had a chance to talk about it to other legislators. I’m surprised by the amount of attention that drones are getting. This is obviously something people are concerned about for privacy and safety issues, maybe not hunting, in our area. I think there will be a lot more legislation dealing with drones.

Do you imagine more legislation nationwide, statewide, or both?

I imagine countrywide and especially in Illinois coming down the line. [The state] already passed a law that says police need a warrant for surveillance, which is a step in making sure they’re not abusing or infringing on people’s privacy. It’s just one step, and I think we’ll see other things. This bill is just one; this one’s just different, recreational.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

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