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. William Demuth

    Slippery Slope dude.

    What about your wife’s lawyer following you and a friend to the motel using a drone?

    What about naked sunbathing in your backyard being videotaped?

    What about catching truants from the sky, or a boss following a delivery man from above.

    Do NOT underestimate what is to come.

    I am a computer systems engineer, and I gotta warn you really clearly, this can get stupid ugly super quick.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrCheeks

      Don't bother trying to break down the logic as to where this is all headed.

      You are wasting your time pleading to the dumbest sedated population on the planet: Americants.

      As long as we have our Iphones, Reality TV, Facebook and Fried Chicken, we don't give a damn about anything else!

      June 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      In response to William Demuth, bosses already follow delivery people from above using GPS and cell phones. Just sayin'.....

      June 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hadenuffyet

      I tend to agree with you , any technology can and will eventually be abused.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thom Carr

      Knowing where any person is at all times is in the very near future. In a few short years all info will be found at an email address. And logging on tells the network where you are. And a drone is informed where you are and the eye in the sky will follow.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "What about naked sunbathing in your backyard being videotaped?" Too late. Ever look yourself up on YouTube?

      June 14, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "What about naked sunbathing in your backyard being videotaped?" Too late, dude. We got you already.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. Michael

    Not true Bob.....some of us don't like the unnecessary intrusion into our lives....

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

      So says the guy with Facebook, linkedin and god knows what else social site you belong to. Right Michael?

      June 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      @ Bob
      Right, everyone that disagrees with you must be a speeder. Personally I take issue with spending millions for a UAVs to hand out minor traffic violates. Buy hey… who cares about wasting money the state doesn’t have?

      P.S. I am not part of social media. I don’t even own a smart phone.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. seriously

    Lets take core of more serious problems first. Hunting speeders is ridiculous. How bout hunt down meth labs, pot farms, drug smugglers, gang crimes, etc. What a waste of resources. (Not that speeding is ok)

    June 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • todd

      They are all crimes you bonehead!

      June 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      Pot farmers will not only shoot down the drones, but take them over and use them to shoot down other drones. The password is going to be PASSWORD.

      June 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Raf

    First off this drone 176 million dollars, second is my taxes keep going up and I pay about 1/2 of my pay check a week to them. I understand cops need updated technology in the world we live in right now, but I think this is going over board. We all now that this is not going to be used for speed traps. Thats why they invented radar gun for land vehicles. Just another way to have Uncle Sam keep his big eyes on us.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael

    Speaking of splitting hairs, I suppose there are some laws I'm breaking (unknowingly) but not causing any harm, so who cares.....

    June 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      The vast majority of speeders cause no harm also. Kinda flies in the face of your earlier argument.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. laughing alot420

    I will worry when they put RFID missiles on them to tag undesirable drivers.

    Until then, I will only worry about the biggest spy in the world, GOOGLE, and the wannabes..

    Keep on changing your names!

    June 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cadillacjoe

    For those members of the semantics squad who say "but speeding isn't a crime" I say if police are out there enforcing the law, and some are getting hurt in the process, using the drone to prevent this is a great thing. If you are one of the mindless that are against the police, let something happen to you and see how quickly you change your tune.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eliott C. McLaughlin

      Not really semantics, Cadillacjoe. Speeding is not a crime in most instances. It's a civil infraction unless reckless driving, eluding police, DUI or something like that is involved.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • uconn

      @cadillacjoe I will take the law into my own hands when the police arent there to protect me. "those who give up essential liberties for temporary freedom deserve neither" benjamin franklin.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "I will take the law into my own hands when the police arent there to protect me." Are you going to hunt down speeders yourself with a bow and arrow? 'Cause I'd like to see that.

      June 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Michael

    Bob – I don't belong to any social sites at all....

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

      What are you doing on here then Michael?

      June 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. OldYgg

    We have seen serious abuses of the use of cameras in these stop lights and speed cameras. There is no reason to think it will go any other way with these aerial drones and cameras. Towns have a clear conflict of interest in entering agreements with companies that make more money the more citations are given for violations at camera controlled intersections. And the more citations this way – the more money the town makes. Towns, cities, etc – are not profit centers for the locals. If you want to monitor an intersection and there is an accident and use the footage to determine what happened, fine – this is definitely safety related. To charge tickets when you haven't proven who is behind the wheel – crazy. Half the time I don't even remember not coming to a complete stop before turning on a red – how can I know if they aren't just editing video (which is very easy to do) in order to bring in more money for the town?

    They should roll back the usage of all these cameras until there has been a nationwide discussion about them. Even something as simple as always requiring signs at intersections with the cameras – and the people should decide if they want to live in 1984 – only much much worse – or not.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael

    OldYgg – they used to have mobile cameras on police vans here.....when they first put them up I said that this was NOT going to save lives, and instead make money for the state and for the company that installed them. About a year ago the governor had them all removed for the same reason....the state should be figuring out how to make money otherwise rather than putting cameras everywhere ready to snap pictures of every bozo doing 60 instead of 55 mph.....

    June 13, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael

    Bob – reading the news.....you?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Say whaaaat?

    California is a prison and police state, soon every state will follow and then we will have a king and queen and be slaves

    June 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. After them

    In other words, go after THEM not ME. If we enforced traffic and parking laws, we wouldn't need to pay taxes.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jack

    Thankfully I'm old enough that by the time these drones are looking for polyps in the sigmoid colons of all Americans I'll be fertilizer.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • melvinslizard

      Now that's funny stuff. On a serious note, George Orwell must be doing backflips in his grave.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. More to come

    Just wait till businesses get them, they can monitor your actions when you leave the building for 24 hrs to see if they want to hire you. Or watxh were you go on your lunch break. Don't forget advertisers: they can scan for your phone to see if you have a smart phone, and then send you ads about the coffeo shop coming up on the left. Hi tech Criminals can use these to watch you, or hack the legal ones and down load their info. Now the crimal knows when when you go to work, when you get home, and can rob you blind in between.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      Absolutely. They are already stalking social media websites looking got “poor” behavior.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
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