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. Derke

    New American passtime: drone shooting.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jc

    hum, sound familiar??
    67% don't want it, yet 67% are the speeders; look at your traffic –
    25% ok with drone use, & look again at the traffic...25% are the ones that keep the speed limit –
    back to american thinking: i am not guility, i do not need to apologize, do not tell me what to do –

    June 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edric

      Really dude? You're going to assume that people don't want it because they speed, and not because it is another form of surveillance? Way to raise yourself above others.. and please tell me more of how you are a person of superior moral caliber.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • jc

      Do you like it when someone tells you what to do? Probably not.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. James

    If i speed . . . im not going to be hit by a missle right?

    June 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • cpc65

      Laser beam!

      June 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • JWT

      Well if you are too much over the limit don't mind that nosecone in your rear-view mirror – the feeling will only last an isntant

      June 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scott Hayducsko

    You shouldn't be afraid of our own government putting drones in the sky. That is of course it your not doing anything illegal. Stay in your legal boarders people.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      You would do fine living in Nazi Germany then about 1939.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Its Sir to you

      Your way to trusting of the redneck cops out there with the hardware. You talk as if them joining the police force, would suddenly make them intelligent decision makers.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Freedom is Dead

    Another freedom gone. Watched at street corners by cameras, stripped at airports without cause, phone calls tapped and no drones with "unknown" types of technology equipped on them. We give up rights one after the other. Vote your current congressman and senator out, all of them. We are all going to get bar codes next, for safety or insurance sake. BS.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bahri

    George Orwell would be surprised by this.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. alterbanner

    Not in my back yard... the neighbor's is okay.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sarah Connor

    In the beginning, Skynet was not yet self-aware.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ironfray

    *in the sky* fixed.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tha Chikin

    Even if they tried, the tickets will not stand. Wanna know why? Because there is a little law that says a Defendant has to be able to question their accuser. Can you pose questions to a drone? Sure CAN'T!! **bang** CASE DISMISSED!

    That is why when you go to court for tickets, the case is dismissed when the issuing police officer doesn't show up.

    Love how these morons just LOVE to waste taxpayer money on stuff like this... #puke

    June 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • aditueoenssen

      Umm....ever heard of license plates photographed in a tollbooth? There's no one present there to accuse you, but you are sure paying a fine if you cross without paying the necessary toll.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jerome

    In other news high powered rifles and scope sales on the rise in preparation for US drone invasion on US soil.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ian Bivens

    Could I also have a police officer stationed in my bedroom? I will sleep better, knowing that I won't commit crimes before morning.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Byron D


    June 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. zippy

    Z can now shoot at hoodies without leaving his room

    June 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. phearis

    Officer 1: "He's doing 70 in a 65!!
    Officer 2: "Launching Sidewinder #1"

    June 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
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