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. Cheese Wonton

    Does even one person posting their garbage here have even the slightest idea of the power and discrimination of the sensors flying on manned aircraft over the US for the last few decades? Aircraft like the U-2, E-3 Sentinel, EC-135 Rivet Joint and E-8 JSTARS plus the Navy's E-2 Hawkeye and P-3 Orion as well as versions of the SH-60 Seahawk helicopter all have sensors that make the Global Hawk look simple and crude. They all have been flying over our heads for decades and nothing bad has happened. But a little UAV with comparatively simple and basic sensors has the uninformed in an uproar. Amazing.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. xavi

    I'm selling plans for a really big tinfoil hat that blocks all drone activity.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    California is going down...only.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. valwayne

    Congress has to slap some very strict limits and controls on use of drones in the U.S. now, with some very heavy penalties for violating them. Drones should only be used on the borders and for direct national security threats. If Congress doesn't the next thing you know some meglomaniac will be launching missiles at someone for going to fast on an interstate. Local, City, and State police should not be allowed to use drones. Only the Federal Government for very limited well defined border and national security purposes, and a judge should have to sign off on their use!

    June 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    You can't fix stupid.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty - Up to 5 words succinct"

    Drone crashes in hospital.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Patrick

    Is that a threat to us patroons?

    June 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • nisroc00

      What happened to helicopters. I'm gonna laugh when 9/11 happens again and the US finds out it was a drone

      June 14, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. Patrick


    June 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Right Wing Insanirty "

    I don't know if it is still this way here in Ohio, but if your on toll I-80 either way crossing the state, where you start to pay toll, you get a punch card with the time on it. If say your comming from Indiana going to Pennsylvania via I-80, they compare the time you get off at the end, to your enter time? Better hope so many hours and minutes elapsed, or your done right now.

    June 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Charlie

    Outside of the issue of spying, etc, the problem with drones is that there is nobody on board to troubleshoot a problematic craft that could eventually crash, or to attempt to avoid hitting civilians if it is about to crash. Give it a few crashes that kill civilians and this program will be a goner. Unfortunately it will require a few innocent civilians to die first. I hope the government and Boeing are satisfied.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ryan

    signs and wonders, the time of His return is coming quickly

    June 13, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Patrick

    Lets look back 30 years ago when we started dui and drug laws.
    What has it gained? DUI still bias. What if! Would what if work in a murder case?
    Intrapment an search and ceaser. Still fighting a drug war 30 years!!!!
    Ok track record 0.
    Most Penalties Americans Loss of Human rights. NO

    June 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      Whatever part of China you got your English classes from, I would ask for a refund.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dante666

    PERFECT FOR ARIZONA – Use the drones to find traffic offenders (Red light runners) and then use a hellfire missle to take them out. Perfect civilian use of a drone.

    June 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Patrick

    When security mutates to enforcement it is no longer security but a burden to society.

    June 13, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      Tell me China guy, how do you get security without enforcement?

      June 13, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ron

    They are nothing a 5o cal wont take down

    June 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
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