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. JC Fabins

    The one thing you forgot is that when the government has decieded who is a criminal it could just encompass the entire population. They feel that the people are against them and their master plan, therefor you are now thge enemy. Look up, they are coming for you now.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jose San Antonio

    We need drones to monitor traffic, and speeders. There's just too many vehicle accidents lately caused by speeders.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Please give up your citizenship, you are no American. You can't legislate against stupid, and it isn't only speed which causes accidents.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. works4me

    Our states can't afford books for schools and they're going to use/buy drones?
    What a load of mitt!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alex

    Machines patrolling our own airspace to monitor U.S. citizens. Where will the insanity stop?

    June 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. K

    If I see a drone in my airspace, I'm going to go to Mexico to get a 'fast & furious' RPG.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seth

      I think a lazer pen might be just as effective.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph

      But we SHOULD use the drones to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the US Border!

      Now there is idea

      I would even have the drone shoot near illegals as they approach the US border. Making them turn around and go home.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dude

    EVERYONE is "bad" – just ask a cop.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. 0007

    What about drones in Syria to support the rebels?

    June 13, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jack Smith

    What happens when a disgruntled drone operator decides to ram a gasoline tanker stopped at an intersection next to a school bus? Don't say I didn't warn you.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobZemko

      You've been watching "North by Northwest" too many times.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • What?

      What happens when a disgruntled anybody does anything? Ridiculous post.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • t-bone

      you cant be serious.
      Whats to stop a local cop from going on a rampage and shooting everyone?
      Whats to stop a doctor from going from patient to patient administering deadly doses of medications?

      June 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      Won't be a problem. Our pilots could do this as well. But I would imagine 99.999% of our pilots haven't tried to take out a city.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • FlyontheWall

      Im one of those pilots.....why would you say that....it is higly offensive. i only wish to protect my country.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Andrew R Brumfield

    I think I'll stop driving now, i had it with lazy-er ways to get money out of my pocket. if i don't drive I don't have to pay car insurance, car taxes, gas prices, or any type of ticket. cause when you add all that up its a second Home loan payment. CNN better read this on multiple days of their broadcast, yea I'm calling them out!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Just a glimpse of the American decline near the end of the oil age....everyone riding bikes and the rich are the only ones that can afford to fly or drive.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • r u kidding

      Awesome. Please stop driving. If you can't drive without speeding then GTFO the road! If you don't understand why there are speed limits and laws on the road, please, stay at home on your coach and eat Cheetos until you explode.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Seth

    This is ironic because illegal immigration is a civil offense just like speeding.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skeptic

      Great point!!! I wish more people understood that!

      June 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • t-bone

      Yet illegal immigration is bankrupting the nation.
      Speeding isnt.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. midnitejax

    Amazingly enough, Americans are unaware that there are over 300, 000 government agents who monitor our everyday movements.Many police departments now have a device that appears to be an elevated camera mounted on the rooftops of their cars. They take license plates and photos of drivers, and then the information is sent via satellite to various locations that are data banks.The info is then sorted by computers, and can track anyone at anytime.Military installations have them mounted on their MP's vehicles.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobZemko

      If you've done nothing wrong, then why are you worried?

      June 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • midnitejax

      BobZempco.....you obviously have missed the point...if you live in a free country, why would the government need to spy on everyone?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. draxta

    Why do we need drones in the air? In the US, there are plenty of them on the ground.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MEPEPE


    June 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • FlyontheWall

      As one of the oilots involved, yes, we already do. Dont be naive. Dont break the law and we could care less who you are.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. K

    Per Washington Post – Feb 2012, by 2020 US to have 30,000 drones in the US skies. One crashed in Maryland a few days back and a few weeks ago one almost collided with a plane in Denver. The first US casualty from a drone is NOT far away.
    Time to wake up sleepy heads!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • t-bone

      It was not a drone over Denver, it was suspected to be a remote controlled airplane.
      Not a drone.
      No one knows what it was.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. spammy

    I'm sure they won't be accidentally looking in your backyard or in your windows if you forget to pull the blinds. Nor will they be tracking you or keeping tabs on when and where you go. This seems totally legit to me.

    June 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brett

      Will it seem as "legit" to you when one of these unmanned missiles takes out an airliner ... or crashes into a hospital, school, church, apartment building ...

      Not a question of IF, just when. And with 30,000 of them flying in 2020 ... when is coming up on us mighty fast.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
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