Illinois State Police get FAA permission to fly drones

MOLINE, Ill (KWQC) – Concerns over drones in the QCA.  They’re being flown right now in Iowa and Illinois with few laws on the books governing their use.

Illinois State Police has just been granted permission from the FAA to fly drones for searches, crash scene investigations, and crimes.

But is your personal privacy and security at risk?

In the Quad Cities, some are starting to see personal drones flying with cameras mounted underneath.  For law enforcement agencies, it’s not a matter of if but when they begin putting drones in the sky.

Drones with high definition cameras can capture breathtaking video.  They’ve been used in Nepal after this month’s earthquake and in California to show the effects of a dangerous drought.

In the Quad Cities, agricultural companies are using them to help survey crops, construction firms are flying them to inspect their projects, and daredevils are using drones to take video of their dangerous stunts.

But opponents say drone capabilities and lagging regulations present real risks to our privacy and security, especially when it comes to law enforcement.

“They’re able to collect lots and lots of information,” said Jeremy Rosen, Executive Director of ACLU of Iowa.  “If police had a search warrant, they could simply fly overhead and all of a sudden take pictures of whatever is going on in your property.”

The ACLU focuses it’s efforts on defending and preserving the Constitutional rights of individuals.  Rosen says the chapter lobbied Iowa lawmakers last year to adopt strict drone regulations.

“We certainly anticipate moving forward that law enforcement is going to start using this more and more and that’s why we think it’s important to have extremely clear and strong rules in place to protect privacy,” said Rosen.

“I know the privacy concern issues are there and we would certainly address those in establishing our written directives,” said Lt. Brent Biggs, Davenport Police Dept.

Lt. Biggs says drones are in the department’s future for everything from search and rescue, to crashes and crime scenes.

“We’ll end up using it,” said Biggs.  “I think from a law enforcement standpoint, there is some positive aspects that could help us serve the community.  I also want to make sure that use doesn’t make the community feel  not secure with how we are utilizing them.”

Current laws in both Iowa and Illinois require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants in order to use information gathered by drones in court. An Iowa Department of Public Safety report released last year implies a warrant may not be necessary.

According to the report, courts “for decades upheld warrantless searches outside of a home.” It goes on to say that “existing case law suggests that governmental use of the unmanned aircraft, without a warrant, would not violate the Fourth Amendment in most circumstances.”

“We’re very concerned that as this type of use begins, we make sure there are clear and strong rules in place,” said Rosen.

In the Illinois Quad Cities, a drone could soon be seen flying above certain police investigations.  Illinois State Police have received the state’s first FAA exemption for a law enforcement agency.

“We’ve been working for almost 3 years to get the UAS program in place,” said Capt. Sean Cormier, Illinois State Police.

Capt. Cormier refers to drones as Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS.  He says so far, ISP has one UAS and working to purchase another, and 4 licensed pilots.

“We can’t just go out and collect information to try to manufacture something,” said Cormier.  “In order to use this on private property, we have to secure a search warrant just like any other investigative agency would.”

According to the FAA website, ISP is one of at least 79 government agencies across the country to get a certificate of authorization, or COA for drone use.  There have been nearly 400 civil exemptions granted to private individuals or companies.

The FAA is studying just how far drones can go, announcing the Pathfinder experiment.

“What we’re trying to do here is push the envelope. What we’re really trying to understand is what can we accommodate and what can we accommodate safely,” said Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator.

The tests will determine whether drones can be safely operated outside the line of sight of the operator, which is currently prohibited.  The tests could open doors for corporations and companies like Amazon to use drones for unmanned deliveries.

Its results could also impact the use of drones by law enforcement, one day allowing police to fly drones beyond their line of sight and across a city from a fixed location.

Lt. Biggs says Davenport police have not used the city’s drone and won’t until the department gets the proper permissions.

Anyone with a drone must keep it below 400 feet, within sight, and away from airports.



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