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. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    Government reads all my mail

    June 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DL

    LOL...and you thot drones were for terrorists only... soon we ALL be terror suspects...
    Soon we'll have TSA agents maning roadblocks & searching our homes for weapons... but we'll be told that you'll have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide...

    June 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liberty

      Yeah they say "if you have nothing to hide, it's all good" yet they invade homes, tap phones, etc, in the name of profit!! They use this technology to progress profit and colonization.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • iTexan

      If the government uses drones on citizens, the 2nd amendment gives us the right to shoot them down.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Liberty

    "No way, say Americans." Riiiight, "Americans", come on, you can't survey 1000 people then claim America feels great about drones. I bet if you surveyed 1000 Occupiers or tea party members you wouldn't get the same results...

    June 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakey

      @Liberty: ""No way, say Americans." Riiiight, "Americans", come on, you can't survey 1000 people then claim America feels great about drones."

      But you can. That's kind of how polls work.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Master Dragon

    Hmmmmm...something tells me, as one of the above posters stated, that concerned citizens may just decide to deprive the badge wearing criminals of their expensive toys by shooting them down. Anyone who does, be sure to stomp the pieces into pieces as well.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    Law enforcement just got "lazier"!

    June 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    Drone won't ....Droid does.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • jake

      umm.. you know what they say.. work SMARTER.. not HARDER..

      i'd say, if it helps save lives... DO IT.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    They'll never catch me RACING!!!

    June 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. The all potent one

    And OB can order you killed with no trial or jury. Is this really what you want from your leader?

    June 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Elmer Fudd

    There's nothing like the threat of a Hellfire missle to slow the speeders down......

    June 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. keltari

    How can you cross examine a drone in court? I have gotten out of several speeding tickets because I was able to show that the officer was wrong (or lying).

    June 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Centimental

    I would support this as long as the drones were armed and authorized to take out (by rocket strike) vehicles that are being driven in a reckless, illegal and hazardous manner, such as, those that cut into my lane without using their turn signal.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. THX1953

    Drones that are used domestically should be fair game for the Red Neck crowd.

    Boy Howdy! Look at Frank! Goin Down In Flames!!

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

    If you don't want police to use drones for everything, you can't let them use them for anything. Cops don't follow civilian mandated rules. It's been proven time and time again. Once you give them the drones, you will have no say over how they are used.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dakota2000

    [spit take] : What police department can afford a 178 million dollar drone.. to give out speeding tickets!!!

    Son, this is the militarization of civil law. That is Illegal under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

    What happens with observation is not enough? And we decide to weaponize the drones.
    It sure would have put down the LA riot pretty fast.

    This is crazy.

    Parking tickets from a 178 million drone... we are not that stupid mr president.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. El Flaco

    If you're not speeding, there's nothing to be concerned about. Driving is hardly a private action. You're on public roads carrying a state issued license in a state inspected and licensed vehicle.

    I don't speed. I hope they use drones to slow some of you maniacs down. I don't understand why cars are manufactured that will go faster than 75 mph.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • realitypolice

      Ah...yes. The old "if you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to worry about" argument. The argument the government has used for a hundred years to try and justify warrantless searches and general harassment of common citizens. You might as well just post baaaa......baaaaa. Because that's all I hear when sheep like you talk.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
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