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

Post by:
Filed under: Aviation • Crime • FAA • Politics • Technology • Terrorism • U.S.
soundoff (863 Responses)
  1. hardcase59


    June 14, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  2. hardcase59

    Can you say Winston Smith??? Stinking pigs are taking over.

    June 14, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  3. Dave Guittar

    OK simple. Every citizen is forced to implant a chip that could be tracked by GPS and resonating equipment (for underwater), and automatically connected to all power devices, controlled and monitored by the government. Bingo.
    All traffic violations are monitored and ticketed by roadside sensors and drones. No more rolling through that stop sign. The ticket fees could be auto-deducted from your pay.
    Just imagine, all of your children would be track-able. Consider it a glorious Fed-Ex tracking mission.
    Cell phones and computers could also be monitored...........Imagine the increase in productivity if all workplace computers were monitored! and controlled.
    The next crazy idea will be to tag all the animals ,and I bet we need more satellites and drones. One each?

    Did someone mention burning and banning books?

    June 14, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. JOSE0311USMC


    June 14, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  5. Alan

    Hey folks – quitcher worrying. There won't be any speedtraps – today.

    June 14, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  6. biff

    Someone needs to make some jamming devices available to the citizens to fight back. Either that or more shotguns will be necessary to take out the low flying ones.

    June 14, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. Lars

    Equipped with thermal imagery. That means the privacy of what you do inside your own home is no longer private when the drone flies overhead.

    June 14, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • sixin


      June 14, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • sixin

      Supreme Court 2001

      June 14, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bob A

    This needs to be stopped immediately! Once in place, the government could use them to track your every move and to isolate people with guns, etc., ad nauseum!! I cannot believe how easily the citizens of this country give up their freedoms to a government that CANNOT be trusted!

    June 14, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • KJB

      Good comment Bob, whats next, coming into your home un-announced and conducting searches for whatever they might want to charge you with.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • noteabags

      Don't worry. No one will take your cache of arms away.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • mstack

      I agree 100%

      June 14, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Richp

      Too late, they are already being used, they added them several months ago, media kept quiet and only now is it coming to light. Ever try to get a federal agency to stop something once they have it going, they just hide it better.

      June 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |

    I think too many of them flying around is not a good thing. Before you know it they'll have accidents and fall out of the sky and kill people, and then who'll be responsible?

    June 14, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Adar

    Hmm.. Alex Jones might have been right all along.
    Our america is not the same freedom land we used to know. Super powers in this world are looking to enslave people via technological advances. they tell us what is good for ourselves as opposed to us assuming all responsibilities for our actions. WE HAVE NO MORE FREEDOMS other than music and food.

    June 14, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. Hugh Jass

    Rand Paul thinks they are spying on his barbecues, which of course begs the question of what the heck goes on at a Libertarian Barbecue that he doesn't want seen? He also thinks Obama was born in Kenya and his dad has a shot at the White House.

    June 14, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Brad C

      Thats exactly the mentality that will earn you spy drones (too late), wire taps (too late), perhaps routine police searches through everyone's homes, etc. Its not that Rand, or anyone has something to hide, its called privacy. I dont want every single aspect of my life monitored (controlled) by big brother.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  12. nirmala

    If you want a classic example of 'wanting to keep the cake and eat it too', this is it. You want top notch security and protection from criminals and at the same time are also not prepared to concede even a little bit of privacy! You cannot have it both ways!

    June 14, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Jenn

      I'd take my FREEDOM over security any day. Ben Franklin said it best. Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one

      June 14, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  13. pork&beans

    These 'cute little drones' that everyone seems to be fascinated with are an inherent danger. Further eroding our liberties as well as creating a danger in the skies and on the ground. I'm surprised that we Americans continue to give up our civil liberties.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. nilla

    Translation: Drones are great to catch people who commit crimes that I don't commit.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • A-Bomb


      June 14, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. Tom

    why is this news? if anyone is naive enough to think local & state governments will care what we think once the manufacturers show them revenue projections I have a bridge for sale you might be interested in... this is just the next progression from red light cameras where the vendors will be working on commission which is my big problem w/both of them: I'm not categorically opposed to using technology to aid traffic enforcement but the flagrant conflict of interest has got to go...

    June 14, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37