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

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

    Enough already!! We do not need more government in our private lives? Use the drones to look for people crossing our borders illegally, tracking criminals, or search and rescue operations but NOT on our roads.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. willie

    It doesn't matter what we think, they were designed to keep us under control. When drones were first introduced the government said they would only be used overseas, not in America. Now they are all over America. The government lied then and they will again. These will hunt us down and be used for policing. We are already tracked with our cellphones and watched by satellites. Big brother is flexing his control, our days as a free society are over.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nick C

    Hmm, Drone $176mil / $80 avg ticket = 2.2 mill tickets to cover cost of drone! + Fuel & Maintenance = dumb idea

    June 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RICHARD

    DO YOU REALLY believe that popular vote or opinion will sway modern American police state policies? They will not. 51% doesn't cut it any more. The bureaucrats and the defense contractors dictate what is to be done.

    The next monster to come down the line is ARMED drones. Non-lethal, at least in the beginning, these things are already finding their way into dark corners of domestic policy. The story was carried several weeks ago, though I don't remember if it was CNN or another publisher.

    Do Americans really want drones hovering over their patio lounge chairs any day or night of the week? I submit that we do. There hasn't been so much as a peep of protest. We've become a nation of sheep and actually love this sort of thing. But sooner or later sheep get sheared and served for dinner.....

    but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

    June 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jack

    Who will be controlling these unmanned drones, the military? Can the military be used for this purpose? I wouldn't think so.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick C

      The HWY Patrol or State Agencies. This will be used for State projects as drones are long time fliers, they can cover states per flight

      June 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Speeder

    Use the drones, I don't care... I doubt you can catch me, I drive fast and furious.
    I can drive on one foot, one leg, no foot, no leg, one arm, no arm, one eye, no eye... I'm good, I can eve drive using a remote control... Catch me if you can!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • notSOfunny

      Wow, you're a pretty good driver.. you should drive this thing i got between my legs up yo @ss !

      June 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. GenericMan

    get drones out of our skies. I don't care what they are used for.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Patrick

    I am Opposed! This facist legilastion can not manage Liberty already.
    I will Declare Treason On Liberty.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Montello

    Hmmm, can they really justify a $220 million drone for traffic duty? Oh wait, money doesn't matter to the Feds.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Terri

    The government knows when you are sleeping. They know when you're awake. They know when you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sakes. Oh you better not cry. You better not pout. You better be good I'm telling you why. Big brother is coming to town.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. chrisjones

    KISS YOUR 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, &7th Amendment rights goodbye

    June 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. AesopsRetreat.com

    W E D O N 'T W A N T "A N Y" D R O N E S I N O U R S K I E S. I S T H A T C L E A R E N O U G H ??

    June 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. nolimits3333

    Obama is smart.

    He uses drones instead of trillion dollar invasions.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Muri

      And that will probably be enough to send him packing. The guy has not only not delivered on a single significant campaign position but he's proven himself to be Bush 2.0.

      As an example, warrant-less wire tapping under Obama is up 400% from the previous administration.....who's the slime bag now?

      June 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Saint

    Speed violation is a crime and if you commit a crime you are a criminal.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. perryw

    Not no but heck no! No way no how. With the cameras on drones they can spy on what you are doing in your car, what what the passengers are reading, playing, drawing or doing. Invasion of privacy. The resolution on the cameras are unreal.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
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