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. dep1371

    Sounds to me we should have these constantly flying over Washington...

    June 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. larry5

    Obama has stated that drones can be part of a comprehensive solution to make sure that states are following the federal interpretation of immigration laws. He has said that we can't have 50 different versions of his immigration laws. He has said that this is a time when the federal government must step up and take charge. Obama believes that state's rights are getting in his way.

    June 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Only If Geeks Can Build Their Own Drones To Use for Robot Wars

    Hey why not let em fly but to level the playing field let the geeks build their own to counter and create robot type wars. LOL! A counter drone process to level the playing fields. 🙂

    June 13, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jose A. Alba

    This is going to far with the drones misusing

    June 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Roelof

    The highway is for people to use, people interact, I would say no speed limits at all with drones. When it comes to bombing people that want to bomb you, I would say, technology first. The barbarian got defeated by the invention of the catapult. From birth they were trained to kill. That left others with inventions to keep them save from that kind of harm.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. Roelof

    The barbarian, is the ME. They've got this NWO. Caliphate. Untermensch dhimmi rules, übermensch muslim rules. It's every muslim their obligation to strive for that caliphate.
    We reason in black or white, ignore most of it. Unless they're communists, because they are white and that's a reason that has nothing to do with racism. That is what makes the west racist. The west should act against Islam. Make choices. How do we want a society to look like. Our culture is 'the away with us'. Freedom to immigrate non. Democracy and demography go hand in hand. Hitler got into power because of democracy. Why? Because democracy and demography go hand in hand. Now we're importing the Islamic world. That doesn't change anything about the rule, that democracy and demography go hand in hand. The Islam is mostly shared by people who are black. Black people love to draw the racist card. When you are against them, you are against black people, not their ideology. That makes muslims not only fascists, but also racists, while others get the blame

    June 14, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  7. Patrick

    Thru the legislation and your peoples choice.
    China girl!
    Democracy.
    Not a minority vote.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. Patrick

    Excuse me for stupping to your level I would like to retract the china girl remark. I beter than that!

    June 14, 2012 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  9. Patrick

    Yea another falling economy. Corrupt legilation.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Patrick

    Oh legislation surely I human!

    June 14, 2012 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. JDR2010

    Well you know I'm okay with it, just as long as NO ONE is exempt from it...which is I think the real issue here. Our society already has too many exemptions of special privileges for the upper class (who by the way will find a way to benefit monetarily from it). So if the guys flying the drones are also followed by them when they drive home at night and checked for speeding violations, I'm okay with it.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
    • cj

      the upperclass are the ones flying the planes?

      June 14, 2012 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  12. cj

    The drones are not sporting the police need to give us a chance to spot them

    June 14, 2012 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  13. eville11

    one o dem unmanned thingy flying things comes over my property I am taking it as an assault on my privacy, and shooting it down.... yup, and selling it on ebay...

    June 14, 2012 at 4:36 am | Report abuse |
  14. warsteiner

    How about using them to protect our Mexican boarder, Oh and leave them armed. I would definitely vote yes for that. Give a couple the boarder security so the can relay info to patrols.

    June 14, 2012 at 5:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. Danna Patrick

    Why not also talk about the good the drones can do by making it cheaper to monitor crops and the borders. What about search and rescue aircraft. You could put up 50 of these aircraft for the cost of one manned aircraft. Then when the location is known... in flies the rescue chopper. Fewer peoples lives would be risked for things like flying along power line routes. At some point packages and mail could be flown from point to point without pilots in the aircraft. There are a lot of things that could be done cheaper and easier from unmanned aircraft. As far as taking out terrorists, they are using unmanned robots (IEDs) to blow up our guys, so they get whats coming to them.

    June 14, 2012 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
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