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. Aziz

    Wow! the land of the FREE! and home of the BRAVE! wants to use use unmanned drones to keep it's people in check... Holy police state batmen! That sounds neither BRAVE or FREE.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BostonSteve

    More government intrusion please...can we please make the government bigger?

    June 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dave

    I believe Obama is the drone master dude. The democrats are the commies in this country.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Erisian

    We just don't have enough news stories about Mexican gangs transporting drugs and kidnapped children on our highways and about armed black youth driving to nearby suburbs to do home invasions! A little more fear in the news and we will be begging them to keep us safe with predator drones.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John

    At $176 Million a pop, I doubt many Police Departments will be able to afford one to patrol for speeders. I hope that if they use them for border patrol that they arm them and actually stop illegal crossings, expecially Drug Mules.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. K

    I don't care what or who they are for, get them out of the US now!
    Last one to shoot down a drone is a rotten egg!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I agree, I know that at 1000 yards my .50 BMG will plumb destroy anything out there...

      June 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. TriXen

    "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."

    News flash: When you're in public, you don't have privacy. As long as those cameras can't see inside in your home, I don't see what the problem is.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      My home extends into my back yard and it is NO ONES business what I'm doing. Usually drinking beer and smoking a cigarette, still not their business. Absolute power, corrupts absolutely.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cardiac50

      They will however be able to see into your back yards. pool areas. .and windows..

      June 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. XxMacleodxX

    the good ole U.S.A. where everyone is considered a criminal

    June 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AcclaimedMan

    For now, use it only for killing RATs (Religiously Aggressive Terrorists) !!!

    After we completely exterminate those RAts, then we will think about other uses !!!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Drone Jockey

    "Drone 147a to Drone Flight Control, is it double tap XX R1 or L1 to launch rockets. Come back"
    Roger that 147a. Yer flying over Compton. Hit any button.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ken

    Take a look at that plane – its a robot, a terminator to the wrong people and maybe one day the wrong people will be us.
    There are 10,000 of these planes – thats hard to believe .

    June 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. wheels

    If they use them for traffic, I will find one that is crashed down somewhere, steal the technology and develop one to destroy all the remaining drones. Done

    June 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jaysargos

    a hellfire missile in your rear window is a GREAT incentive to slow down!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • susli

      Excellent point!

      June 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Face

    Cool, we are finally becomming the authoritarian government the GOP has been nudging us to. Excellent! How long do I have to wait for these things to be falling out of the sky into a neighborhood near you. Zeig Heil GOP... Zeig Heil.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. hemo

    we should use the drones to spy on the jews! they're plotting our very destruction as we speak!! the whites will rule all once again!!!!!!!!!!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
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