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. RadZap

    So the best way to create jobs and stimulate the economy is to persecute the populace with automated technology. This can't possibly be a bad idea, right?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Washington

      And this has nothing to do with the economy or stimulus..... but, I'm sure you heard it on talk radio and had to regurgitate it

      June 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Charlie

    Go ahead, keep giving me reasons to take my talents to another country.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Washington

      Which one? I'm sure your witty repartee posts are a sought after commodity......

      June 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joe Friday

    People, cameras are everywhere already. They're at the shopping malls, both in the parking lots and inside the stores. There are red light cameras. There are cameras in some school zones to deter speeders. There are cameras that monitor the flow of traffic around cities. Police cars have cameras mounted on their dashboards. They've been there for decades. Business owners have used surveillance cameras for at least 50 years. This is nothing new. And, seriously, nothing to be afraid of. Well, unless you're a terrorist or other criminal. They're even at airports these days. And most people with cell phones have cameras in them. So smile. You're probably on camera.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anti-Joe

      Joe after reading your posts I think you are not a Patriotic American. These drones were made to do military operations. Why the heck do you want to continue to make America a battlefield.. No Thanks, I feel safe without them flying over my house.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Charlie

    This is a good idea. Government needs more of our money.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @Charlie: but if we don't speed, they don't get our money! Simple economics: local governments won't buy drones if there are not enough speeders to provide revenue to afford the drones. So, simple solution: if you don't like the idea of speeder drones, don't speed. Drive within the speed limit and you need never fear a speeder drone.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. stta

    Surveys need to be more complete. Sure fewer than 1/4 would be OK with drones used for speeding tickets. With that question they should be asking questions like do you speed and better yet do you speed more than 10mph over the speed limit? People like to break laws but then complain when new ways to find law breakers are developed. Those that excessively speed are the reason for device to stop them for everyone's safety while trying not causing more tax money to be wasted. I wonder how much tax money is spent just because people are not honest, law abiding and have no respect for anyone else and endanger others.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Juan

    My problem is that 9 out of 10 cops I encounter on the road are speeding themselves. I find it amazing how all these corrupt cops are handing out tickets to people going 10 mph over the speed limit and then drive off doing 25+ MPH over the limit. It might not be major corruption, but when a law is being enforced by someone who is breaking that same law it is by definition corruption... To be more on topic if these do go into circulation I would be more comfortable with them if cops also will receive tickets for speeding, seeing as how they are supposed to be perfect examples of the law not above it.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • mr grumpy

      Like that will ever happen. Welcome to the privileged class.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. wow

    If the drones are watchin' the people ..... who'se gonna watch the drones?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • mr grumpy

      According to White House leaks: Obama. Doesn't that make you feel better?

      June 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. iTexan

    This is classic human behavior. Use whatever you want to catch 'other people' but don't use it to catch me doing anything wrong.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. seattlite

    Life imitates Terminator 2.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

    @Dat
    Yes it’s all in their heads. Cameras were once a rare sight. Later they became cheaper to build and common. Next thing you know a major city is going to put them on every street corner and traffic light. ..I must be crazy right? O yea… NYC already did that. And implemented a stop and search law that doesn’t require the police to have a reason.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. asis76

    Im sorry but 1700 is not a good number ask some southerns in Texas how they feel about it they will tell you they want to shoot them down they are not happy about it put them on the border fine. Putting them in the skies about us NO WAY!!!!

    June 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rich j

    Nothing a good shotgun wont fix

    June 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • fritz

      Absolutely. This could become a new American sport. Targeting the snooper drones with rifle and scope. I can see myself lookin' through the scope of my 30/30 and wisperin', "lead the target, hold your breath then gently squeeze the trigger.......Gotcha! Pesky fly on my nose! Gimme another!"

      June 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Carlston

    Speeding tickets have less and less been about safety and more about making money. Sorry I fought 6 tickets all exaggerated by cops and all thrown out. Want to control speeding? Stop everyone not 5 percent of them...cause then the slow drivers are endangered for going to slow by the mob rules.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • stta

      Pulled over 6 times for speeding? I think we see a pattern here. Sure the cops to it for the money not because you were speeding? Nice rationalization and not excepting the fact that you are endangering others when you speed. Are you one of those that cuts people off also. In 35 years of and over 500,000 miles driving I have been pulled over 3 times for speeding. I was over the limit less than 10 mph each time. I accepted my responsibilities and moved on but I didn't blame someone else or rationalize what was my own fault being the speeds are posted.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      @ stta
      Look into MIT's 5 year study on traffic. Speeding by itself does not endanger other drivers. However SLOW drivers do as they are typically going much slower than the flow of traffic. Idiot.

      June 14, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. stta

    I am tired of people complaining about being in a police state. Should we abolish all speed limits? Speed limits are set for safety and traffic control. They help prevent accidents and make the roads safer. What we need is a survey of accidents and find out what percentage is caused by those who think the have the freedom to speed and run red lights? Some controls are needed to prevent chaos. On a busy highway, how many times are traffic jambs started by a selfish driver cutting off another to get one car length ahead? Maybe those complaining should move to other countries that think they will allow more freedoms than the US.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reality

      You are sorely mistaken if you think we're not becoming a police state. At what rate are you willing to sacrifice your privacy? I'd rather my address be 123 Main St, USA than Grid Block C-43, which is where this is heading.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anti-Joe

      POLICE STATE: a nation in which the police, especially a secret police, summarily suppresses any social, economic, or political act that conflicts with governmental policy.
      Who's watching the watchers? I Fear my government. Our framers warned us of these days.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • justin

      Do you actually believe speed limits are for safety, if you do you are in a serious state of denial. The federal government pays states for having speed limits, then they get money from tickets. When Montana added speed limits the number of fatal accidents doubled, to me that is the opposite of safe.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jeff

    I am really not fond of the idea of these drones flying over the US... There are no real catch and balances as to who knows what data they are really collecting and what they are doing. I am all for them in the fight against the Muslim extremist.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • IG88a

      checks and balances

      June 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
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