Police drones and privacy



May 13, 2018 - 11:00 PM

Drones are a wonder to behold. Speedy, mobile and inexpensive, they open up all sorts of promising uses, from delivering packages to finding lost children to inspecting damage from natural disasters. But there’s a potential downside. The same technology that can be so useful carries the risk of eroding privacy to the vanishing point — particularly when government agencies are flying the drones.

A bill moving through the Illinois General Assembly, and supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would allow police to use drones to monitor large groups of people, whether they’re watching a football game, attending a concert, or, well, protesting police abuses. But a bill that raises concerns isn’t necessarily a bill lawmakers should reject. Let us explain.

Chicagoans have some experience with illegitimate spying on citizens for political reasons. For decades, the Chicago Police Department operated a unit that monitored radicals and other dissidents, violent or not. It compiled files on hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of organizations, including the NAACP. It’s scary to think what it could have done with the help of drones.

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