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

    This is just another tool for the elites to use to help them finish their POLICE STATE GRID.....

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

    I'm more concerned with the continual increase of of military hardware being used in civilian police forces. DHS 'grants' and the like have effectively militarized our police force. Posse comitus? Whoi needs it? just give civilian cops military weapons.

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

      More like North Korea every day......

      June 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nomad

      Don Cornelius needs it Bra.

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

      Your are correct. Paramilitaries never end well. I suspect we are going to see more of this "industry" at home as revenue lost to military contractors from the wars ending in Iraq and Afghanistan will be spent on escalating a war on the border in the name of stopping drugs or some other lame exscuse. A town near me with a population of only around 2500 has a police force that owns an assault vehicle and the cops walk around in tactical gear. The local elementary school on the other hand asks parents to save box tops to buy books. America could do so much better.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. WhackyWaco

    Obama's government in the sky will get the average citizen.

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

      Are you serious. It is the republican fake conservative law and order types that approve of this. I guarantee that almost everyone in the ACLU voted for Obama than would dare vote republican. True conservatives who believe in limited, less intrusive government are absent from the republican party. The repubs are the ones that want you to pee in a bottle to prove yourself, support the drug war and asset forfeiture, want warantless search and seizure, created the Patriot Act and form Homeland Security. Don't blame this intrusion on Obama

      June 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. loserloserloser

    until hundreds are killed by drones crashing into our highways trying to catch you speeding the man won't be happy

    June 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JJ

    Wasting tax payers money? expensive toy for traffic tickets..
    whoever come up w/ this idea should be fired. Bloodsuckers for a country.

    June 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. buddget

    So this is where it begins. It sound so harmless, and before you know it we are living in some "Terminator" movie.

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

      Where you will report to verk on time every day. I swear.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • jeff

      We already are, aircraft have long been used for speed enforcement. Satellites, cameras and all forms of surveillance are used by big brother. The reason for ‘The right to bear arms’ was originally so the people could take over the government if needed. Our forefathers could have never imagined how fortified and entrenched the government would become.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sloop1

    But they WILL be flying them over NYC to catch people drinking large bottles of soda.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • mattyj

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Brilliant! Where is my Colorado-sized big gulp...

      June 13, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nomad

      My grandfather and me.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Elmer Fudd

    And nothing beats a laser-quided missle for resolving police pursuits quickly!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      We'll be seeing that one on CNN LIVE !

      June 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steven

      LOL, I like this. Hell fire missiles to stop those pesky people who text and drive.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MandoZink

    I'd like to see a poll asking if we should have given corporations the same rights and privileges as citizens.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ferit

    why not?

    June 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John Doe

    This is just another plan of the Bilderberg Group and the New world. Support Alex Jones at infowars

    June 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Parag

    Now we will have to have a number plate on the roof of the car...

    June 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • djan

      Hwy patrol operates aircraft for this purpose already and still manage to do so without there being a plate on the roof.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. keiyuuki

    Looks like America is another step closer to become a clone of North Korea. Erosion of freedoms and rights which started in 2001. Add it to massive Military spending and cutting infrastructure spending. Soon the US will have to request Food for Weapons programs.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. mik

    This is great. So as long as everybody stays within the speed limit, the cops will go broke just operating the drones in about .. say ... 10 hours. They will need 100's and 1000's of speeding tickets to fuel, fly and maintain the drones.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      They can't afford the toys they got now. My county has let go of around half the police force. No printing press for money here. CA will have to pass.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. djan

    A very expensive way to try to earn revenue. Bet they wouldn't make a dime in the end. Don't know if anybody here is aware of what it actually costs to own and operate a UAV but lets just say it's not trivial.....

    June 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
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