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. midwestmatt

    Really? Multi-million dollar drones to write tickets?

    To HE LL with the government that would even think about doing this and I'm a raging liberal.

    Toss out every bum that ever votes to allow this kind of thing to become law.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dakota2000

      I am liberal too. And I agree. This is facism. I think we can all get behind opposing this move.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ArtInChicago

    The New Escort model Enterprise666 Radar Detector! It has GPS mapping of known speed traps and speed cameras, dectects all known radar bands, laser bands and LIDAR, even Predator Drones! We can't stop the missle if they are targeting you, but we sure can help you evade the speeding ticket!

    June 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CS Madison

    The biggest determinant in if they use the drones for speed traps is can they collect enough cash in fines to offset the cost of operation. Just like red light photo enforcement.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dao

    government going overboard, as usual. and we pay for these guys!

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

    OK....first report what company builds drones, who is profited...then we can conclude if it is good or bad....
    Necessity of drones in civilian world.....never

    June 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David

    Taxpayers pay to have the roads patrolled. Excessive speed kills. If the drones can do it more efficiently and safer than purchasing patrol cars, patrolmen, and chases then more power to the drones. Having a camera system on overpasses, etc also makes sense.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • hain6295

      With thinking like that, you sir, are the reason the US is becoming a police state

      June 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • AKSean

      David, I understand your reasoning, but I disagree with your conclusion. Adding drones to the spectrum would put more people out of work. Let's keep people working and contributing to the tax base.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bahri

    CNN – Do you need a proofreader for your captions?

    June 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dao

    too much gov!!

    June 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Scott Carlton

    tracking drug usage, illegal immigrants are all "criminal activities" and so is speeding why not use it for that? The average person feels the law should only be applied to others and not to them. If you are not doing something wrong then dont worry about it right?

    June 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. drew

    Will a few $200 speeding tickets offset the costs of operating a drone for 1 hour?? i think not

    June 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nozz

    We are considered criminals by our paranoid gov't so "locating criminals" is about abusive as it gets.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Derke

    Using drones to police Americans is wrong. So what is using them to kill innocent middle easterners?

    June 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pete/Ark

    Whoth'hell cares ???? Tinfoil hats for the paranoids !

    June 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Edric

    More and more is this country almost becoming like Orwell's 1984.
    Eyes watching us everywhere.
    Internet Surveillance watching us for what we believe in or even just think about (thoughtcrime).
    Perpetual war to keep weapons manufactures in good business.
    Media, MTV, with their Jersey shore and RAP music slang as a form of NewSpeak.. limiting our nations vocabulary to narrow their range of thought.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rob

    Duh because everyone speeds

    June 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
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