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. eviltaxpayer

    Big brother, it started with red lite cameras, now the goverment has a new way to extort money from the peons.

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

      You sound like a drug dealer!!!!

      June 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jim

    Name another country that might use drones on there own people. If they could maybe North Korea, Iran, Syria, Israel, or China? That puts us in great company...

    June 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • t-bone

      How is the US using a drone on its own people?
      If it monitors a warrant being issued or assists in the capture of a criminal, how is that any different than using a manned helicopter?
      How do you think those police chases in LA get on the news? A kite?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BobZemko

    Wow, those noises in your head are fascinating !!!!

    June 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Coinspinner

    If you think these won't be used en masse then you are a naive child that has not been paying attention in the last 30 years. America is a police state, get used to Big Brother.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. guesthaha

    The funny thing is, they are using them already. The article is about a poll on something that is already happening and people were against it. The regulations have already been relaxed by the POTUS in february. So it is legal now, what makes you think they weren't using them before? Wake up America.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe L

    Privacy, schmivacy. Obama loves drones, loves power, loves to overstep his authority. Therefore he WILL use them, laws be damned.

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

      Dude!! Your kidding yourself if you think this is about Obama....its not. the drobes came in to popular use during the Bush administration. They are not going away no matter what we all think. They are so cheap to operate. get over your naive partisianship.....that is only foolish.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. michael collins

    Drones should be carefullly regulated and perhaps we should write laws making it neccessary to get a warrant to use them. They should be deployed for a specific purpose and target. They are a dangerous tool for General use in Police work. We have already had several cases where someone is charged with a crime they didn't commit based on a drone spying into their bedrooms and bathrooms. Traffic monitoring is out of the question. The potential for abuse is just to great. We should know from experience that you cannot trust our police to regulate themselves.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. patch vader

    Take a drive through most of rural and some of urban America and you can see the traffic signs that are used for small caliber targets. Unarmed drones will be better than skeet shooting. They nwill just make it less safe for the commercial and private air traffic and for citizens on the ground. This will also be the start of an arms race for mun icipal police departments as none will be able to do without the latest hardware. This is a very bad idea, on many levels.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jim Medley

    This is a complete travisty. If I was out in the wilderness with my significant other and we were all alone in a secluded bit of forest. If I was with my significant other alone in my backyard in my pool or any other place I thought private. If we made love to each other then we might not be the only ones enjoying that moment. It will not be just the people who do illegal things on camera. DO NOT ERODE OUR FREEDOMS.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robert Shaperio

    Those that would scrifice essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety..........Ben Franklin

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

    these are SPY drones. The EPA is already using them to harass cattle ranchers out west.
    No way we want these flying over American Soil FOR ANY REASON.

    Oh did I mention Congress has already approved them flying ARMED? Well they did.

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

      Raven, Really the EPA? Are you kidding me? The EPA can't even get enough money to help monitor safe drinking water. The fact that you think the EPA is using drones is pretty bizarre. Now, I agree with you on the fact that they should never ever be use on US soil for anything. Don't believe the hype, but fear the erosion of our freedom from Republican and Democrats alike.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Robert Shaperio

    Those that would sacrifice essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither safety or liberty.....Ben Franklin

    June 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WDL

    George Orwell would be so proud of us. Acting out his greatest fears in perfect lock step. Very scary indeed.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. VBD

    As a regular speeder, this is not something I want to hear. Seems like pretty soon they will have drones flying everywhere and watching every move we make. If they want to catch speeders, let them do it the old fashioned way and catch them. Most of this speeding ticket nonsense is just revenue generation anyway.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. perryw

    Well since Pres. Obama signed off on this, I blame him. Freedom is not his to give away or take.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
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