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. mk

    I'm suprised conservatives are against this, they could lay off traffic officers to let them keep more of their money.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. Hannibal7

    I can only hope that every freedom loving citizen would take their best shot at one one these big brother Orwellian monsters. I recommend grand pa's old 10 Ga Goose gun with high brass, OOO buck and a full choke. For those persons who want to monitor their fellow citizens in such a way... please go die slowly... in horrid pain and agony.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff

    couple of these patroling the Mexico boarder programmed to shoot anything that crosses the Rio Grande shot stem the flow of illegals.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
  4. James70094

    67% oppose the use of drones for speeding tickets because 67% are chronic speeders.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. Holy Mackeral

    "Poll: Catching criminals is fine, but don't use drones for speeding tickets, Americans say."

    That is all fine and dandy but the simple fact remains that the government of Amerika care a wit what the public want or don't want. American elections have become a folly to keep the masses paying their taxes.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. Joe

    I told people for years on CNN that drones were coming to a town near you, that Iraq & Afghanistan were the testing grounds for this technology... and people always made their snide little comments like "put on your tin foil hat".

    Well... here we are.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ron Rizzardi

    Hypocrits.
    Its OK to use survellance on some forms of crime but not others?
    A crime is a crime. Traffic violations, speeding and red light running being the worst, are crimes that could kill someone. That is serious. But for some reason a majority of us feel we have the right to speed and run red lights under the guise of privacy.
    Hypocrits.

    Your right to privacy ends when it potentially causes harm to me.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Thomas Jefferson

      Speeding isn't a crime, it's a miwsdemeanor. It's ok to commit a misdemeanor, but not a crime.

      June 14, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Are you a waterhead? Speeding isn't a misdemeanor. It's a summary offense.

      June 14, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • jw

      Speeding is a civil infraction in most states.

      June 14, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • shwall

      Why dont we just put a camera in everyones house hard wired to a super computer to make sure noone is abusing kids or doing drugs?

      June 14, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Name*Joazona

      the gov the sheeple like you

      June 14, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill Buckner

      Ok, so the drone catches "you" speeding. It gets your license plate #. How will it prove you were the one driving the vehicle? Either the pilot testifies against you and says he saw you with his own eyes or else it's hearsay. I don't want random traffic citations against me when I wasn't even in a vehicle. Besides, it's the taxpayers dollar. I think we have the right to determine what offenses are serious enough to spend it on and what isn't as important. Escaped convict? Yes. Doing 46 in a 35? That's why we have police officers.

      June 14, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
    • blutto

      No No No and HELL NO. Conservatives are such idi0ts to want this outrage. Whats next? Arm them with missiles to Drone the citizens?

      June 14, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      In many places it’s not even a misdemeanor it’s a civil in fraction. It is in face decriminalized.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. conrad shull

    Use them to keep track of politicians. And, if they get out of line, blamo!

    June 14, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      That's one way to clear out two branches of government. Should take only a week or two to get them all.

      June 14, 2012 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. jim

    Don't speak out too loudly. You'll end up on a list...

    June 14, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. Thomas Jefferson

    Freedom to exceed the speed limit should not be infringed!

    June 14, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bpb Hillenbrand

    How long before they allow armed drones over OUR heads in the name of the law ? More justification for the invasion of our privacy ignoring unlawful search and seizure – got ya' watering your lawn on the wrong day ! Don't most things start off with justifiable reasons for their uses an then evolve into more intrusive efforts. The regulations should limit drone us to the items people agree are reasonable BUT just give it time an the "reasoning" for their use will expand. And how about reliability o e drones ? A quiet stat is that the drone we lost over Iran was only one of about 4 dozen the military has lost in conflict areas from simple failures -16 tons and 250 wingspans are AIRPLANES ! And 5 pounds falling from the sky will hurt !

    June 14, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  12. ObamaUnitl2016

    I'm all in favor of using drones to hunt down domestic terrorists in the Tea Party.

    June 14, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. Good Driver

    They should use the drones to track people driving slowly in the passing lane and then BAM!!!

    June 14, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      lol

      June 14, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. Obama is a Socialist

    Big brother will be watching everyone soon, making sure everyone contributes to Obama's socialist agenda.

    June 14, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • TootsieRoll

      ^ lol

      June 14, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. Name*Joazona

    The start of Skynet is here. Yes, kind of a joke but if you put it in perspective, it is more or less true. Computers intelligence is advancing at a geometric pace. That, applied to flying drones wich are basically robots should be quie disturbing to all of us.

    June 14, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
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