Poll: Catching criminals is fine, but don't use drones for speeding tickets, Americans say
The FAA says many universities, companies and government organizations are developing and producing 155 drone designs.
June 13th, 2012
02:30 PM ET

Poll: Catching criminals is fine, but don't use drones for speeding tickets, Americans say

Go ahead and use drones to track down criminals, to combat illegal immigration or for search-and-rescue missions. But to issue traffic citations?

No way, say Americans.

A recent Monmouth University poll showed there was overwhelming support for using unmanned aircraft in a variety of circumstances, but routine police work was not one of them.

Fewer than a quarter of the 1,708 adults surveyed last week said they would OK the use of drones to issue speeding tickets. Sixty-seven percent said they opposed the idea, and 10% had no opinion. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points (view a PDF here).

Compare that with the approval ratings for other drone applications: illegal immigration (64%), rescue missions (80%) and locating criminals (67%). The poll also indicates that 64% of Americans would be concerned about their privacy if U.S. law enforcement agencies began using drones with high-tech cameras.

Under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which President Barack Obama signed in February, the Federal Aviation Administration is charged with developing a plan “for the safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system as soon as practicable, but not later than September 30, 2015.”

The act is in response to the strict FAA regulations on drone use. It loosens those restrictions, allowing many government agencies to get swifter FAA permission to operate the unmanned aerial vehicles. It also allows any "government public safety agency to operate unmanned aircraft weighing 4.4 pounds or less," if certain criteria are met.

The FAA has authorized drone use for dozens of entities, including more than 20 universities, the U.S. military, local police forces, the FBI, NASA and the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Interior and Energy.

Drone uses vary greatly, according to an FAA document issued in March that outlines how drones will be used in six test ranges.

Not only can their objectives encompass everything from surveillance to searches to air quality testing, they can take many forms. Wingspans range from 6 inches to 240 feet. Weights run the gamut from 4 ounces to 16 tons.

"One thing they have in common is that their numbers and uses are growing dramatically. In the United States alone, approximately 50 companies, universities and government organizations are developing and producing some 155 unmanned aircraft designs,” according to the FAA.

The agency says it will select the test ranges in late 2012, with the first location becoming operational in 2013. The FAA currently has a test site at New Mexico State University, which it’s been using since June 2011.

There have been few incidents with domestic drone use, aside from an accident this month when a $176 million Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk went down in a marsh outside Salisbury, Maryland.

Outside the U.S., however, there has been widespread opposition to American reliance on drones to take out terrorists. A recent Pew Research Center poll showed that the U.S. was the only country among 20 surveyed that approved of using drones to kill extremist leaders in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Sixty-two percent of Americans approved of the strikes. The only country with an approval rate rivaling the U.S. was Britain with 44% (47% disapproved). Approval ratings for the other 18 countries ranged from 5% in Greece to 38% in Germany.

A separate Pew survey in Pakistan showed equally ardent opposition, with 58% of those surveyed saying the strikes were unnecessary, 58% saying they are conducted without government approval and 93% saying the attacks kill too many innocent people.

In an April letter to the FAA’s acting administrator, Michael Huerta, the chairmen of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus said they had numerous concerns about how the drones would be used.

While lauding the benefits of deploying drones in U.S. airspace – including for “spotting wildfires and assessing natural disasters” – Reps. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Joe Barton, R-Texas, said “there is also the potential for drone technology to enable invasive and pervasive surveillance without adequate privacy protections."

“Many drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment, including video cameras, thermal imagers, radar and wireless network ‘sniffers,’ ” the representatives wrote. “The surveillance power of drones is amplified when the information from on-board sensors is used in conjunction with facial recognition, behavior analysis, license plate recognition or any other system than can identify and track individuals as they go about their daily lives.”

The congressmen closed by asking several questions. Among them: How does the FAA grant temporary licenses? Who has been certified in the past? Have any applications been denied, and if so, why? Is the public notified about where the drones are used? Who operates the drones? What data are collected? How does the FAA plan to make its drone use transparent?

The American Civil Liberties union also chimed in last year, saying that as drones become increasingly cheaper, law enforcement would ramp up its use of the technology, according to the December report, “Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft.”

In the report, the watchdog group said drone usage should be limited to instances in which police believe they can collect evidence on a specific crime. If the drone will intrude on someone’s privacy, police should be required to obtain a warrant. There should also be restrictions on storing images of people, the ACLU said.

If the FAA cannot ensure people’s privacy, Congress should take action, the report demanded.

“The deployment of drone technology domestically could easily lead to police fishing expeditions and invasive, all-encompassing surveillance that would seriously erode the privacy that we have always had as Americans,” attorney Catherine Crump, one of the report’s co-authors, said.

In February, as the Senate considered HR 658 (the would-be FAA Modernization and Reform Act), the ACLU warned that Congress was trying to “fast-track domestic drone use” at the expense of Americans’ privacy.

In addition to concerns that unmanned aircraft crash more frequently than their manned counterparts, the ACLU said nothing in HR 658 addresses the “very serious privacy issues.”

“This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected," wrote senior policy analyst Jay Stanley.

“We don’t want to wonder, every time we step out our front door, whether some eye in the sky is watching our every move.”

Overheard on CNN.com: Unmanned drones ignite domestic surveillance debate

Post by:
Filed under: Aviation • Crime • FAA • Politics • Technology • Terrorism • U.S.
soundoff (863 Responses)
  1. BK

    All I know is that I've read an awful lot of articles about those things making mistakes; please don't give them missiles.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jonathan

    What's incredible is 25% of people actually SUPPORT this. These are the same people that support taking away the few freedoms we have left. Support increased government bureaucracy. Support Uncle Sam telling us what we can and can't do with our bodies when we aren't harming anyone else. Support war over diplomacy. Sad, sad, sad.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bcinwi

    another reason cops are criminals with a badge

    June 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Oodoodanoo

    Who care what we want? It's just our job to pay for the things.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nomad

    People people. It shall never come to pass. Let's not all get our panties in a bunch over it.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Radey

    The poll was conducted using hypocrites. If you break the law, you are a criminal. If you are a criminal, it's ok to use the drone to track you down. You break the speed limit law, therefore, it's ok to use the drone to track you down...

    June 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakey

      Think it through a little more...using a drone to perform a search with a specific goal (and a warrant) is one thing, but using it to try to detect crime not previously known to the police is another thing altogether. That opens a lot of ethical doors best left closed.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • citizen

      You must be one of the cops out radaring keeping people safe by making your locale money on speeding tickets

      June 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • not an ignoramus

      Speeding is not a crime it's a civil offense.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • mhm

      Yup, it seems Americans are only okay with drone use so long as it does not effect them directly.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • CJ

      Drone capabilities go way beyond just being able to sniff out a criminal on the run. These things can monitor everything that is electromagnetic. Another thing who or what agency is going to get access to all that data? What about inadvertent capture of images? Say your neighbor, that hot Mrs. Sanderson is sunbathing in her back yard.... That is just the creepy. Drone use has to subject to strict guidelines, until legislation and the public can get a feel for what is right.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. pc

    Some day, we will have to beg our government not to drop the bomb for speeding. The fact is that the military industry has a saturated market, and look for domestic buyers, such as the police force. An advice to Lockheed Martin, Boeing or alike, go fight the war overseas, sell your expensive products overseas, and just don't make America a war zone. Keep america a peaceful place.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    Drones are ok to use. Just try to limit their usage in the USA just as overseas; on people suspected of terrorizing US citizens. (like crack dealers or meth peddlers)

    June 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. huzzah

    They should only use them is they arm them with Hellfire missles and allow the operators to take out those that try to run from the police.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MrCheeks

    Remember when our elected leaders and politicians said:

    "Drones will NEVER be used on Americans...Predator Drones are ONLY for 'em terrorists and illegaL messicans..." <-LOL!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Newport Pagnell

    The US NAVY just augered one in the other day in Maryland. Left a huge smokin hole in the ground. $100 million dollar hole. Waste of money on all fronts.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. pbernasc

    a bit too late to complain about drones to do police work ... what is the difference between a drone and a million video cameras taping everything the public does and then feed the video to computer for automatic surveillance, which has been happening for years?...
    This is big brother already .. only it affects the "bad" people, you know, those the gov calls terrorists and then just get killed via video camera. u the common loser, will not be affected ... just wait long enough and u will see

    June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. wrm

    But it is going to make you safer... safer!! Don't let the terrorists win.

    Hope and change baby, hope and change.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. :)

    good luck informing it without a signed ticket promising to appear in court

    just like the red light camera tickets you don't have to go to court because you never signed anything promising to show up first and second try proving you were the ione driving the car at the time.

    It's another major fail and WASTE OF TAX PAYERS MONEY

    June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    hey, running from the police ?? Get a Hellfire missile up the wazoo !

    June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37