Drones may be the military’s present and Amazon Prime’s future, but they won’t occupy Evanston airspace anytime soon. Thanks to a moratorium passed by Evanston City Council last May, commercial drones are banned for two years in Evanston in a preemptive effort to combat privacy violations and abuse.
The moratorium made Evanston the third city to ban drones in the U.S. after Illinois became the first state to regulate drones last August.
“Unmanned aerial vehicles were getting ahead of our existing federal and state regulations,” says Jane Grover, alderman of Evanston’s seventh ward. “[Local activists] suggested that [drones] had implications for Evanston, and we should be interested in getting ahead of the issue.”
Grover championed the moratorium to her colleagues, who passed the resolution in a narrow 5-4 vote. The concerns were brought to her attention by local activists, including Evanston psychotherapist Dickelle Fonda, who hopes to bring awareness to the issue.
“We also wanted people to understand that drones are being manufactured now,” Fonda says. “Drones have the capability to spy on people. They have the potential to be abused. That potential does outweigh the potential for good.”
The potential for abuse includes unlawful surveillance and crowd control. However, the potential for good is important to note, too. Surveillance drones can help find missing persons or provide information and assistance during weather-related emergencies, according to Commander Jay Parrott of The Evanston Police Department.
For now, the EPD doesn’t need drones, nor does it expect to operate them anytime soon. However, they hope to learn from the example of larger police departments who do use drones before operating the vehicles themselves.
“We’re not going to be one of the first agencies [to use drones],” Parrott says. “Evanston is a condensed area—only 7.8 square miles. I’m not sure there’s such a huge use for drones in this particular area.”
Garnering support for the moratorium wasn’t as easy as Grover and Fonda had hoped. Opponents argued that the EPD’s progress would be hindered by a moratorium, and that the resolution was preemptive. Grover hypothesizes that the split vote was because it wasn’t among Evanston’s highest priorities.
Fonda suggested that the post-9/11 climate has instilled enough fear in civilians that they’re willing to give up certain civil liberties. “If that’ll keep us safe,” she explains, “That’ll do it.”
Come 2015 when Amazon hopes to launch delivery drones, NU’s mailrooms might need to change. That’s the year when Evanston’s drone ban expires, too. But if you just can’t wait, Barnes & Noble on Sherman Avenue sells the Parrot AR. Drone 2.0 Quadricopter for $299.95.