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. jp

    Why are we allowing our local police forces to get more and more militarized? Posse Comitatus was enacted for a reason.

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

    What's the difference? Being able to see citizens anywhere and track them worldwide any time of day and see them through walls, behind rocks, through roof tops, is what is out there now. Sorry, your right to privacy is gone. Next up is civil liberties. You commit the crime speeding 36 in a 35, in a socialist republic you pay. Government wins 100% of the time. What makes you the exception? Why speed limits???? We are gradually moving to communism. Understand who you are voting in. That's majority. No remorse. Your Google car is controlled by government officials, not you. Wake up.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kristen Ann Winslet

    Before you know it, the U.S will be a Police State . . . I mean, we will realize that the U.S. is a Police State.

    Better have your Papers Ready at the next stop, Passport, License, Voters Registration & Online List of Passwords, (Forget the last one, they already have them).

    June 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • LKS

      It is already a policed country.... They are now looking to ban the NFL for ballet as the rugged sport.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alberto

    Drones should definitely be used to ticket carpool/HOV cheats!

    June 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joe

    Freeways should not have speed limits. However, there should be zero tolerance for any form of distracted driving.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fig1024

      Zero tolerance policies are designed to be retarded. Do we really need more retarded government action?
      I want smart policies, not zero tolerance

      June 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Hadenuffyet

    No matter the use , if someone loses control due to adverse weather , radio interference , or outright negligence , you might be lucky enough to acquire a unique yard ornament. If your unlucky , someone may get buried.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. teddybrgr

    IF our government started to use these drones domestically, then I would HOPE and PRAY there would be strong citizen resistance against it. WE are the people, and MUST act against our loss of privacy rights.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      So you are saying you have a right to break the law? Speeding is breaking a law. You are a criminal if you speed. There are different degrees of course but you are still a criminal.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joe

    If you don't want to live in a police state. Vote Libertarian. Enough with these Republicans and Democrats already.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. john hill

    fascist police states of america.. we can no longer trust our government or police. game over

    June 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. fred37ify

    No drones inside the US ! If they even get one toe in the door those drones will be armed in less then 5 years ! This is know joke !

    June 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steven

    Look, all I did was cross the street before the 'Walk' sign turned green. Had I been a little slower that Hell-Fire missile would have hit me.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Whostheliar

    This is insane! Who knows what they're doing once their up there? They can say anything, "Uh, yeah, we're up here taking pictures of flowers." But they're watching you and everything you do. This is complete neopoliceism. No wonder no one trusts the gov't now. They've tried to convince people it's for terrorists or criminals until they label YOU as the terrorist or criminal.

    Freedom will eventually be met with death and weapons again if this is allowed to continue.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. snowboarder

    it surprises me that law enforcement has tken this long to use such a well tested tool.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BostonSteve

    More government intrusion please...I need the government to tell me how to live my life.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Natrldiver

    Wow, to think that this once free country is even thinking about this only makes one wonder how much longer until we are in a police state. No longer do we have rights for the liberals have given them away for a larger government. Priveledges are for the wealthy only who can afford to pay their way to freedom while the rest of the country suffers at the hand os the government.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
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