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. 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 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. thecentrist11

    This is the future.. it's going to happen sooner or later- might as well get a head-start on the technology.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • AesopsRetreat.com

      Yes, a head start on the Technology to shoot them down...

      June 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dave3051

    Big Brother is watching.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. American Citizen

    OK are there really people out that are really in support of using military weapons against the american people. How can any one be willing to give up thier rights just so that way the cops can have an easier job. I SAY NO. TO THE MILITARIZATION OF OUR COUNRTY. You say yes to this then upi are giving the powers that be the power to what ever they want. At what point will you wake up and know that evey time we allow such travesties we lose more and more freedoms just so Ozzy and Harriet at home cna feel more safe in watch reality TV,. Those who support this are meer SHEEP.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • AesopsRetreat.com

      Nobody is willing to give up their Rights. THe Govt only claims "somebody" wants it. But they never say who. They only "CLAIM" a poll is in favor. That's total BS !

      June 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. adam12

    The polls also said no redlight cameras too but did that matter?

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

      There is a lawyer trying to make the red light camera illegal. Let's hope he wins!

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

    No way should drones be use at all in America. This is supposed to be a free country. American better quit buying into this "oh it will help fight crime crap" and realize this government is just working to control more and more of your life and property. I think personal anti aircraft weapons are in order if these things fly in this country.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      Wow, you must be living in a different USA than me. I live in a police state – we have come to expect this.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick C

      @Dave – no drones in America /// Yes, they should be deployed to the Southern Boarder!!!

      June 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LRRP

    What's the difference between this and the use of small aircraft to check your speeding on western highways? Not a darned thing. Harder to beat than radar – just drive the speed limit and save fuel

    June 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. george

    Just the tip of the iceberg, Can you see the coming police state?

    June 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      I can. You can. But the majority of the public can't see past their iPads. How long before these drones are weaponized and flying over our heads? They'll cite domestic terrorism uses, I can see it now...

      June 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • MADD MAXX

      I see the current paranoia.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      The police state is already here.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brenda

    All this BS is getting out of hand......technology, what a crock of #$%&, all it's done is make life less "human'

    June 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. smokeee

    Drones should be used to take out bicyclers that don't stay on the side of the roads, bikers/hot-rodders that have loud exhausts, cars driving under the speed limit, and fugly women.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Patrick

    If they got enough money to buy drone. they got enough money to fix what they have destroyed...
    America better start looking at its liberty and using it!!!!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. hellyes

    Now, if they wereto arm them with Hellfire missles, I'd be all over it.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lol

    People don't want drones used for speeding tickets because they know they'll get caught! XD

    June 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rob

    Wow! the land of the FREE! and home of the BRAVE! wants to use use unmanned drones to keep it's people in check... Holy police state batmen! That sounds neither BRAVE or FREE.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. allens

    the government has outgrown common sense. this is just one more chink in the armour of privacy. if the government allows this to happen, i will remember all thoise that were at the helm

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