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. midnitejax

    It's my understanding that Baltimore PD already uses the technology for tracking motorists.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. madmaninthemiddle

    So 20% are against using drones for SEARCH and RESCUE? Thanks. We now know the % of people who are so paranoid as to have lost the capacity for rational thought.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jt_flyer

    This is only step one.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. GroundTruth

    Well, it does my heart good to read these comments and realize that people are finally beginning to wake up to the loss of Liberty in this country. A bit late, but perhaps the Republic based on an assumption of human dignity and individual integrity can still be saved after all!

    Time to reign in the surveillance state! Time to say no to drones in our skies, say no to cameras in governmental buildings, and say no to the constant demands for ID!

    June 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • john galt

      I tried to stick my head in the sand as the other poster but the fireants became too much.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      What about income taxes...the source of government control. In 1913 a group of politician forever changed the landscape of america by empowering themselves and every congress after them with the right to tax the people.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jimzcarz

    Oh..Now that looks cost effective..So I guess if someone wants to challenge the ticket they are S.O.L?

    June 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jschm

    Jaywalkers, speeders, litters, all can be marked with paint balls and then ticketed later. Of course try to use that on someone illegally coming over the border and ACLU, the Democrats, the Justice Dept all will be crying foul and the offending party sued as they are doing to Arizona.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Olga

    Sure, it will see some resistance, but so did traffic cameras and radar guns in the past. After this, the next step will be blowing up fleeing suspects by guided missiles. And we will agree to it because we will be told it will make it safer for everyone, cops and motorists alike. You probably are not ready yet for the one after that...

    June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. baldeagle

    Look in the mirror you little monkeys. What do you see? Remember what Fud use to say? "It's raabitt season!" Well, run rabbit run!

    June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Steven

    This is total BS! Why can't people use the brains they were born with. Has anyone ever heard the term, 'Give them an inch and they will take a mile?' I'm all for using technology advances to make us safer from terrorists, maybe cartels, probably not poor illegals. However, this is a slippery slope. Yeah, right. Today they say not to worry. We would never use this technology against our law abiding citizens. That's absurd. Then someone has kidnapped someone in a stolen Chevy van but they don't know where it is. So, just this once we'll use it to track every Chevy van in the country. Just this once, honest. Then something else, and something else. Before we know it we'll be opening our mail to find a high-res picture taken from 10,000 feet of our car blowing through a stop light. Haven't we learned that the government cannot help themselves when it comes to constricting our civil liberties and rights? I'm not a conspiracy nut, just a realist. It happens time and time again.

    You tell me, am I crazy?

    June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jt_flyer

    If these drones are as effective ticketing motorists as they are fighting terrorists I can see bonuses all around for law enforcement.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jimmyp94518

    The escalation of police power has gone way to far already. What's next?

    June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. AJ 876

    It's like....we're turning into...a...police state

    June 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. HIDE BEHIND

    All spy drones are not large, the newest model is only around 18" in diameter, airborne for 3hrs, broadcast range 5 to 12miles with normal but gurthrrr with vehical radio telemetry amd is already in use in Arizona, N.M, NEVADA, IDAHO, MONTANA, AND being tested by many police dept
    Americans willingly surrendered to government policys of drug wars and it had little to do with conservative or liberal, terms!
    In 1950's spying upon americans was popular with rrpub and demos looking for commies

    June 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • john galt

      I am waiting to run into one of those bumble bee drones. They have some even smaller. Who's watching me? That firefly or Cliff from the NSA?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Chris Dane in Maryland

    What year did Skynet go online in the Terminator movies? Inquiring (and increasingly paranoid) minds would like to know...

    June 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jt_flyer

    "Those who choose security over liberty deserve neither". Ben Franklin.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
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