A resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of unregulated drone technology within Evanston failed to pass City Council one week after sailing through the Human Services Committee. Questions arose regarding the definition of “drone” and the measure’s possible impact on research projects at Northwestern University presented the obstruction. The measure was held pending research into such questions.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl signaled problems for the resolution from the outset. “I have a problem with the concept that it’s progressive to have a moratorium on new technology,” she said. While drones have been in the news as carrying out targeted killings in Pakistan and elsewhere, drones would most likely come into use domestically for surveillance and in search-and-rescue operations.

At the Human Services meeting, Evanston’s Chief of Police Richard Eddington said that a drone could complete a search of the lakefront from Howard Street to Wilmette Harbor in about 20 minutes, while the same search would take hours using traditional means. He has also said that the police department has no plans to acquire drones, as they prefer to wait until the technology is tested in other jurisdictions.

The measure was introduced by Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, with proposed Illinois legislation introduced by Senator Dan Biss in mind. Members of the North Shore Coalition for Peace, Justice and the Environment pushed its passage, saying the concept drew support from tea party advocates as well as the ACLU.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, added an additional wrinkle into the debate, saying she had been approached by a Northwestern professor who asked how the measure would affect his research if passed.

The definition of “drone” also concerned some aldermen, who wondered if  items such as remote control helicopters, more complex remote control airplanes, or even certain toys would qualify under the proposed resolution. The resolution defines a drone using three words only: “unmanned aerial system.”

After expressing reservations, Council voted to hold the matter until May 28. Its fate appears uncertain, at best.