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. freedomringingnow

    LOL! Now a radar jammer can really do damage.... Hmmm can one be over taken and reprogrammed to chase police cars? Just throwing some what ifs... and smack...

    June 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    I think we need drones to help manage traffic, lots of drones. And they should be armed with hellfire missles to be used on rubberneckers at accident sites and on the idiots doing 60 in a 25 mph zone. On top of everything else, they'd remove a lot of vehicles from the road, increase the average IQ, and give us lots of recyclables.

    June 14, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Victory666

    We need a leader with values. I have never met a Mormon I didn't like. I endorse Mitt Romney.
    I agree the present U.S. Government is the definition of x-inefficiency.

    June 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. HeyZues

    What's amazing is no one is even talking about the privacy issues here. And since when did it become OK for the government to use Military Tech to spy on it's citizens? I mean I know the Republicans are afraid their defense contractors might be out of a job son, but is this really necessary?

    June 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. muggles

    If you don't speed you have nothing to worry about.

    June 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. real american

    I would shoot down drones flying over my house as a matter of principle. my freedoms are not for the government to decide, but inalienable rights passed to me by our forefathers.

    this is not a "1984" fiction novel, this is our lives

    June 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JerseyJeff

    Besides using them to enforce boarders or naval waters, there is no way I think this is acceptable. This is America, privacy and freedom are primary values. Sorry if that makes the job of the police more difficult, but this is the United States. Your job might be harder, but it's in the name of protecting freedom and privacy of the citizens you are protecting.

    June 15, 2012 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. Cynic

    This is just what is needed: another way to criminalize Americans

    June 15, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ha

      There are laws for a reason – you break it, your what? a lawbreaker – just go the speed limit, then you never have to worry.

      June 16, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Ha

      whats the difference between a drone, and a video camera that takes a picture of your license plate if you blow a red light?

      June 16, 2012 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Rabbits

      Speed kills! Speeders are criminals who deserve to ne caught and punished.

      June 16, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Raphaelle

    It is NOT alright by me that we are using drones to catch criminals...! Especially, as of late, where the government's definition of 'criminal" is beginning to look more and more like the definition of a patriot. Drones are an invasion of EVERYONE's privacy! These are Orwellian days, for sure...

    June 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob

    The corporations that own and run this country want to keep the slaves from rising up against them as they most surely will at some point in the future. Fear and propaganda will be used to cause the ignorant masses to plead for their own incarceration. We have already seen how inept and incapable the people are today at protesting against even the most egregious of corporate robbery from the people.

    Welcome to the beginning of Skynet's implementation by USA, Inc.

    June 15, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. johnnie

    It is obvious to me that the use of drones in America will impede even more on aviation with more restrictions and hazards of midair collisions. We already have helicoopters and other piloted aircraft in use to fight crime. It is just another very expensive government intrusion on our freedom. The axis powers of world war 2 would have loved something like this!

    June 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Watchfuleye

    I have said it for as many years as I can remember, that, BIG Brother has not only been watching us, but has been plotting against us. As the days progress, we are getting closer and closer to the end of the great nation that we all have loved dearly. Thanks to the Idiots and Stupid people in the USA, that have not protected our rights and property, we are all DOOMED. We might be able to save ourselves, but it will take some very drastic measures to accomplish this. I hope we can for the sake of our children and the younger generation. God Bless us all.

    June 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. help our nation now

    im gonna make drones for the citizens so you can follow government drones back to HQ what stops anyone from grabbing a drone and following other drones? are they in for a surprise.

    June 16, 2012 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Scott

    We are so quick to give up more freedoms (e.g., let the government watch and control everything we do) to "feel" more secure. I think that our founding fathers would be shocked to see us today!

    June 16, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Wil

    All they have to do is watch the drivers gps and issue tickets as fast as possible for there retirements!!?!
    Plus on top of that the vehicles black BOX shows if you make a complete stop at stop sighs plus lots more. Welcome litle brother into your private life

    June 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
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