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. Drones over America!

    Yay! Finally we can start seeing those we've suspected all along of terrorizing US being droned down...our neighbors.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. kman02

    "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."

    We were the only county attacked on 9/11/01.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sean

    I dont get whats so wrong with it. The're using a drone to get catch people who are doing something illegal. If drivers are more cautious because they think they could be caught at any minute, isn't that a good thing? The only people who wouldn't like the drones are either law-breakers or are paranoid from watching too many movies.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • kman02

      Do you really want our military hardware to police us? Really?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • visionarey

      Laws and consequences of breaking laws are on the books to help regulate human behavior. Traffic laws a speed limits are there to "reasonably" slow down traffic. But when you aggressively over-enforce, you fundamentally transform a society into a police state. We could already have technology in our cars that would monitor our speed and send a signal to the police whenever we pass the speed limit. That would keep everyone in line. Is that what you want? Do you really want to drive down the street in fear of braking a speed limit and getting immediately in trouble? Speed limits with reasonable enforcement as we have it now keeps road speeds down without the feeling of being in chains and being watched every second. It's a question of how we fundamentally want our lives governed. From fear? From the stick? From Big Brother watching over you every second of the day to keep you in line?! Not in my lifetime.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • LKS

      The only reason laws are made are to be broken and create government income.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Patrick

    Law is invented to control human emotion! Not lock it UP!
    Way off course on you political scince. And Mentaly disturbing!
    I spy. TREASON!

    June 13, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John N Florida

    If the cops can use drones, can I build 'stingers'? Seems like a fair trade.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Nah, those Drones have a top speed of 100 mph so save yourself some money and get an AK.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom in San Diego

      If you do, let me know, maybe we can get them in a cross fire and take a few out...

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

    Here's an idea....don't speed and don't do anything illegal, and you have nothing to worry about. The laws already allow for anyone outside of their home to be photographed and/or observed at all times....this is why the paparazzi have the legal right to point a camera at you every second you are outside of your home. I certainly wouldn't like that amount of observation if my life was worth watching 24 hours a day, and granted, I don't want them peeking in my windows, but if you keep your blinds shut when you're smoking pot or taking a dump, then their existence isn't violating the law anymore than what is already allowed.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raven

      Those who would give up freedom for security, Deserve neither.

      Benjamin Franklin

      June 13, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • LKS

      Blinds don't keep technological cameras from looking through walls. They see you at all times. Even behind 20 foot granite boulders. Worldwide privacy is gone.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John N Florida

    This will all be fine until the first family in a Cessna gets wiped out in a collision. Then watch the CYA politicians start yammering.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jason

    Use 5 million dollar drones to send out 50 dollar fines. What a brilliant way to spend tax payer money.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Portland tony

    Yeah yeah they said the same thing when they allowed cops to have radios or radar guns. You fail to stop for a school bus loading kids or drink a six pack and drive at 80 MPH through a school zone or where kids play....that friggin' drone should put a missile up your tailpipe. Get serious, California, when they could afford it, used to patrol state roads by aircraft which measured your time between two lines a mile apart on the roadway. You drive stupid, you gonna pay.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cheese Wonton

      California law specifically prohibits timing vehicle speed between two physical locations on the ground, This is defined as a speed trap and specifically prohibited. An airplane has to pace the car and estimate the speed based on airspeed and known winds. In practice a ground unit is called in to pace and stop speeders.
      VASCAR is also banned in California because it measures speed by timing between two objects a known distance apart.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      @cheese w..you are absolutely correct. My point was some form of aerial surveillance has always been available. If it were cost effective geostationary satellites could and would cover high crime areas...and research has shown this to be possible although never officially
      on US targets.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Patrick

    What laws. Thats the problems. legislation is not mature enough. tranny is amost search and ceaser, imtrapment, MADD, No trust in these gstopos!

    June 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Patrick

    lAW IS TO SERVE AND PROTECT. not look for crime.
    Whem it looks for crime it becomes distorted.
    And I think 2012 is perfect proof!

    June 13, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LKS

    Government will be driving all our cars. Can't beat them, join them. The danger is the government continuing to continue naming it a "DEMOCRACY" when in they don't acknowledge it as "COMMUNISM" when everything gradually begins shaping into just that. The government remember doesn't have to tell it's people anything.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • LKS

      (continued) just as they "softly" stated it: The Great Recession when in all reality it has been a depression. So instead of making everyone panic, lets just redefine: Democracy in this country to mean Communism. They already did that with the word, "Natural" in grocery stores. ....see...

      June 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    Drone judge, jury, and executioner.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. HIDE BEHIND

    In a nation where its populace strip and allow body searches in order to fly, what's left to conceal.
    It is no secret that the gov wants total surveilance of we the people, it has over 4.5 million in its black ops that are all patriotic americans and tens of thousands trying to sell surveilance tools that are also patriotic americans.
    A point to remember when abuse of state security powers are mentioned: Homeland Security!
    One of HS's agencys first acts was to find out where Texas Democrats were hiding for the Texas Republicans.
    Their next act was to deny any political pressure

    June 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Portland tony

    Why is it when a young child goes missing, all law enforcement look for private security cameras to help with the investigation. Technology can help. Walk down a street in London and you are always under CCTV surveillance. You could vote to hire and pay 1000 more cops for the same protection in each town. Wanna do that?

    June 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
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