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. Cheryl Jefferies

    I'm not real thrilled that the EPA is using over-head flights (granted, they're manned) to make sure farmers are complying with EPA regulations. Guess they know that lots of farmers might take their own action again drones doing this. Wonder who gave the EPA the right to spy on American farmers? Never mind. I know who did it. King Liar. The Marxist in the Oval Office. Obama.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      They are making sure farmers don't get slack and let their animals excrement run off into drinking water, and yes, farmers will do that to the guy downstream unless you watch them. When the flights stop, the water starts turning brown again. By the way, Obama is under your bed RIGHT NOW turning your dust bunnies into little fuzzy socialists. Better go stop him.

      June 14, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  2. gb333

    It sucks that you are allowed to vote.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      GB33 people don't vote in fascist regimes...careful.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cadillacjoe

    I consider myself a proud liberal, but drones will save public safety officials' lives and stretch resources in a time of budget tightening. If you do not want drones to fight crime, don't commit them.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      Speeding isn't a crime.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg


      The one big flaw in your argument is that the one huge crime that threatens our own national security daily is illegal immigration and I haven't heard anyone say anything about using drones to police the thousands of miles of border. Why not?

      June 16, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mac

    Wasn't there a recent movie about Drones and how they were programmed to "Zap" or "kill" criminals from the air and ow this programmer gets roped into some political shenaginans? I forget the name of the movie.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "I forget the name of the movie." It was either AVATAR, SOUND OF MUSIC, or NAILIN' PALIN.

      June 14, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. JG

    Ha ha – catch the other guy (criminals) breaking the law, but not me breaking the law.
    In any case: No Drones for any purpose in the US! (Back in the USSR ...)

    June 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Michael

    I like my privacy....I don't speed or break any law for that matter. However, I don't like my picture taken every time I leave the house to confirm the fact that I don't break the law. If everyone is going to be monitored then we might as well get tattooed or microchipped at birth. If you are against this then you should be against cameras everywhere, because the former is much more effective, and you know it....

    June 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • ficheye

      You don't speed or break any law.... you are full of it, dude.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Michael, are you serious dude? You would be ok with implanting microchips at birth...oh my goodness, we TRULY are approaching the end.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      The flip side is that they don't know us and we all know them. If there are cameras everywhere, then we'll be watching Boehner shop for groceries and John Edwards cheating on Rielle Hunter. Will John Edwards be watching us? Nope. And if enough people from government agencies start being allowed to use drones, there will be a lot of drones whose password is "password" or 1234. Happy hacking, boys!

      June 14, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "we might as well get tattooed or microchipped at birth." That would be so easy to hack. I'd have microchips for every occasion; charge my groceries to Donald Trump and pass off my speeding tickets to NASCAR drivers. They'd have to be passive chips with no batteries, so someone would have to be close to scan them.

      June 14, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

    Sacrificing the privacy of a nation for a minor traffic violation, oh yea.. you’re a bright one! lol

    June 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      It's actually the same as the "bear-in-the-air" system they use now, where a plane flying over the highway clocks how fast you are going and notifies ground control, only with no pilot at risk. They don't mean a drone would chase you down and land beside your car. "Step out of your vehicle, hu-man."

      June 14, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  8. Eliott C. McLaughlin

    Not to split hairs, g, but most traffic citations are not crimes, per se. They are considered offenses or civil infractions but don't warrant the criminal categorizations of misdemeanor or felony.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      Actually they are crimes. Misdemeanors. Breaking a law is a crime, by definition. There are laws that say how rapidly your car can move while being driven. This is why law enforcement officers can give you tickets if you go faster than the law says you can go. They are enforcing a law. Breaking that law results in your having to pay a fine, because that is the penalty for so minor a crime. You don't get a criminal record for it, but you do have to appear in a court of law if you choose to contest the ticket. The judge will ask if you plead guilty or innocent of the crime. It's a minor crime, but still a crime. Hope this helps.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anomic Office Drone

      That's not splitting hairs. That's an important distinction that needs to be made.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ewellcastle

    What about UAV collisions with airliners and other manned aircraft? And what will the FAA do about restricting the model aircraft hobby?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eliott C. McLaughlin

      Good point, ewellcastle, and one of the reasons the FAA was given until 2015 is so the agency can come up with a plan to make sure the technology will not endanger anyone on the ground or in another, manned aircraft.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael

    No I'm not....I rarely even drive my car! and yes, I don't break any law....believe it or not there are many of us who are like this.....surprising eh?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      @ Michael
      That is very unlikely. There are so many laws on the books you are most likely breaking the law on a regular bases and don’t even realize it. In many states 0ral se.x is a crime. If you haven’t broken that law… I feel sorry for you

      June 13, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • uconn

      youre correct and we call them sheep

      June 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Me

    Big brother is watching you!

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

    No I said that those who are for cameras everywhere should be OK with microchipping....I'm not for cameras and not for microchipping either....

    June 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KevininPHX

    Just shows how freaking stupid most people are. Speeding, is breaking the law. Hellllooooo! Crashing soon in your neighborhood! It's what we deserve for letting our elected officials turn our country into a police state.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Furious Styles

    Yawn....The police have been using aircraft to find speeders for decades down in Florida. As you get to certain points on Florida's interstates, there is signage posted informing drivers of this as well.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      I live here in Florida have seen those signs. I’ve yet to even hear of a person getting a ticket that way let alone meet anyone. They don’t run those planes because tickets are all about revenue. It cost more to operate plane and helicopter than they generate.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bob

    If you have nothing to hide, then there is nothing to worry about. If you are a complaining, then you probably need to slow down and stop speeding.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eliott C. McLaughlin

      That is a common argument, indeed, Bob. Why should you worry if you're not breaking the law? I think the problem that privacy advocates have is that you could be doing something completely legal (I believe one commenter offered the example of sunbathing naked in your own, private backyard) and one of these drones equipped with high-tech imaging technology could see you. You're not breaking any laws because you're on your own property and not visible to passersby, but the government could see you. I believe that is the rebuttal you're going to hear from that side of things, that it's an invasion of privacy to watch people from the sky when they're not suspected of crimes. From the documents I've seen, this is likely going to dominate the debate as we move toward 2015, but we'll see.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • yourlogicisflawed

      Ahh, the battle cry of fascists everywhere. So i guess then you wouldn't mind police cameras in your bedroom and your bathroom, in your car, watching your every move? If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear, right Bob?

      June 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      I bet your name's not really "Bob."

      June 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
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