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. bjd1020

    "As the FAA scrambles to gets drones into U.S." You would think CNN woulf proof read their captions....

    June 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jeff m

    What group of people did you interview? Police Officers? Your friends? why don't you inverview black people,median class? You media and the government control everything and whatever you say on tv, web, radio and any other media source is not true, you are using just like nazias PROPAGAND,,,PROPAGANDA....

    June 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nomad

      In reality, even the bible is propaganda

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


      June 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    The leading sentence: "the FAA scrambles to gets drones" gets drones? Really? Are there any real reporters and/or editors at CNN anymore? Next time I want to "gets drones" or "gets foods" or whatever, I'll check CNN first.. lol

    June 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ricky Carmichael

      Dude, take it easy, CNN was up all night with Code Pink doing stuff, they are a little tired.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Radiolarian

    Next comes the cameras and microphones in everyone's house, using the excuse that "if you're not doing anything wrong you don't need to worry" We are already living in a police state, remember warrantless wiretaps, stop and frisk laws? . East German secret police would have been proud of how the US is evolving, we are following their playbook.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anti-Joe

      Radiolarian. Spot on! Why don't people see this for what is is?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. us_1776

    We have to "invent" some type of mission for these things after we end all the ridiculous wars.

    Whatever happened to Sheriff Deputy flying around in the Piper Cub? About a billion times less expensive.


    June 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • jonathan

      Yeah. Good luck on these silly wars ever ending.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dutchman

    Does that mean if an idiot shines a green laser at a drone, that it will somehow become reported as a
    Federal offense???

    June 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. orion7x

    So, this is going to be a police state... Been there before. Expect a fight!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • kitty

      yea it's going to be more than a police state.... drones will exceed even hitlers ambition.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anomic Office Drone

    I don't want drones over my head. If you want air surveillance, police already have helicopters and Cessnas. In fact, I've been in the car when someone got a speeding ticket when clocked by a plane.

    I offer this compromise: blimps. Feel free to put uniformed cops in blimps.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Stars and Stripes

    Obama 2012! Drones Schmones... military satellites can do the same thing and have been able to do the same thing for years. Here's the part you people fail to understand... the Govie can and will do what it wants regardless of the laws it supposedly enforces. Remember it has the monopoly on power as mandated. It makes, enforces, and breaks these same laws. Do you really believe that even if a law were passed requiring that the use of drones be sanctioned by subpoena that it would actually happen 100% of the time? The debate is nonsense...let them use them, they are likely already. Just hope that they are not carrying a payload, otherwise innocent citizens will be considered, well...collateral damage...in let's say... the war on pot, or the war on beer, or maybe the war on heavy metal... or any other made up war on the intangible that provides an excuse to kill. I love America...just not what she does all the time. Welcome to the next generation!! To the Future and Beyond!!!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • jonathan

      Well there's a huge difference between a huge, expensive, valuable asset such as a military satellite being used and having drones flying over our cities to enforce traffic violations. BIG DIFFERENCE. It's just one more step in Uncle Sam watching our every move. Telling us what we can and cannot do with our own bodies etc.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Greenspam

    Republicans love this. They say any liberals complaining about govt intrusion into people's life are criminals – "If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide". BTW, Republicans also support TSA and its invasive search on minorities.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Marke

    Here comes the Terminators "Skynet"

    June 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Paul Childs

    Who are watching the people who are watching the people..............and BIG BROTHER gets BIGGER!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. honu

    if it can be control via a remote location, it's communication can be jammed.

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

      I just betcha the military thought of that when they were being designed. And even if it's possible so what?

      June 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chris

    The problem with America is that it doesn't know what it wants to be anymore. They continually toe the line of 'we want this' but only 'this far' when the fact is that it always crosses that line with a little time.

    You want drones, America? Then accept the fact that they will a part of all of your personal lives...if you think they will just be used for 'criminals' or 'illegal immigration,' you're crazy. And you get what you ask for, which is more than you wanted.

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

    I have absolutely no problem with police forces using this tool (drones) for identifying ANY violation of law, including traffic enforcement – even jay-walking! The more difficult we make it for people to violate laws with impunity, the better. Stiff fines and jail time with be a wonderful way to reduce violations.

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

      You're kidding...... right?

      June 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • skinsrock

      You must love being told what to do & probably haven't thought for yourself in years.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
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