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. barry o.

    If you're ok with drones in your sky, you have serious issues.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  2. nope

    of course "drivers" would say no to this. most "drivers" actually can't drive, but think they can, and speed.

    70% of you shouldn't be on the road, and the use of drones would enable the government to isolate who truly are bad drivers. congestion problems solved, get them all off the road!

    June 14, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      I agree most people are terrible drivers. Number one of the list are mini-vans/SUVs who travel at a slower speed than the flow of traffic. Often in the passing lane while texting. All the while raising their fist at car ‘speeding’ by.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. Lindley

    I think the word "drone" is the wrong focus. If the police want to put light aircraft in the sky, they can put light aircraft in the sky. They can put cameras on them, radar, etc. That's nothing new.

    The only thing that's new is that now these craft will be remote controlled from the ground. The major question isn't what they can see on the ground; it's whether or not they'll be able to see-and-avoid other aircraft.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Stephen

      These drones will be much more affordable with time. There is a huge difference between having a police officer in a Cessna and one controlling a drone. ...The training and effort required to receive a license.

      The other difference is that they come stock with certain advanced surveillance equipment; whereas now the police have to buy a light-aircraft, buy the surveillance equipment separately, and pay to have it installed.

      The price is what makes all of the difference. Companies will begin cranking out drones to suit the needs of police rather than the military. This will dramatically decrease their price. So rather than a city having a couple of helicopters, they'll be able to afford a fleet of these things.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      @ Lindley
      A Cessna is not the equivalent of a drone. Drones can stay in flight much longer and has greater surveillance capabilities. In other words they will see a lot more and for a lot longer. Hence the privacy issues.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. John the Electrician

    Next they will close the skys to public aviation to fly the drone s safley. No more Cessnas, hang gliders or para gliders. This will reduce the population eventualy just like East Germany.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jenn

    Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one- Ben Franklin (who is rolling over in his grave after hearing all the freedoms we give up for FALSE security)

    June 14, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. Stephen

    We've now reached the point where our local governments are preparing to utilize military equipment to enforce the law. There's something seriously wrong about that.

    I can't understand how anyone can identify themselves as a Republican or Democrat. Both parties are moving our country in the same direction. Sadly I think it's too late to do anything about it.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Inciteful

    Lots of issues raised here, only some of which are related to the use of drones.
    Privacy: The technology available to police for invading our privacy exists whether it is mounted on a drone or in a patrol car, so that's a separate issue.
    Licensing/regulation: The FAA just needs to figure this out – this is inevitable so they need to get with the times.
    Safety: It would take an awful lot of drones falling from the sky to match the number of accidents that patrol cars get into already. No brainer – drones are much safer to the general public. And people don't shoot drones when they get pulled over (though I'm sure people taking pot-shots at drones will occur), so its safer for the officers, too.
    Cost: I'm all for providing the same government service cheaper. I gotta believe that drones will be cheaper in the long run than employing officers to sit in cars waiting for speeders or to have them undergo sensitivity training. And there are no pensions, vacations, or workers comp for drones.
    Enforcement: Here's the root of most objections, I believe. We think that drones will be ruthlessly efficient at catching speeders and there will be no chance of pleading a case to a live human. We need to consider this. If we deploy drones with orders to take snapshots of every car that is exceeding the speed limit, maybe 95% of us would get tickets in the mail immediately. So do we adjust the speed limits to something reasonable? Do we tell the drones to just skim the fastest 1% of cars on a given road in a given time period? Do we combine speeding with a pattern of other objectionable behavior to warrant a ticket? If we do this right, it could be very effective in identifying those that are truly creating the greatest risk on our roads, and that could only be a good thing.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      A drone can see a lot more than a patrol car. A patrol car can’t see into your back yard or through your roof with thermal. After all… why doesn’t the military just put camera’s on their hummers to fine terrorist. I stopped reading after first failed example.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. steve

    Country of sheep has no problem with drones overhead.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • I can't believe it's not butter

      Now they are going to be able to watch you have at your home from up above....home pprrnn

      June 14, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • dcase20

      Why don't you stop calling people sheep and join the conversation. You are probably not as informed as you think you are either.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. Citizen

    Maybe they can keep an eye on Congress for us!

    June 14, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. John Mahon

    Believe they had/have been doing this with regular aircraft on the N.J. Turnpike. I have no problem with this as there are many idiots who don't give a damn about the speed limit. I would also support the use of closed circuit cameras on our highways being used for the same purpose. If you have a problem with being monitored in the interest of public safety that's an awful shame!!! You all seem to arbitrarily assume it's offensive and big brother tactics.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      You seem to arbitrarily assume a Cessna or stationary highway camera is the equivalent of a spy drone. Let me guess you drive a mini-van or SUV?

      June 14, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  11. Myto Senseworth

    Any social government needs ways to monitor their subjects.....

    June 14, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. pharel

    This doesn't make sense, if a vehicle is speeding the DRIVER should be ticketed not the person the vehicle is registered to. I can see many people getting screwed over because their spouse consistently drives like a idiot. The only way to issue the tickets correctly to have uniformed officers in cruisers enforce speeding.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Lester

      To expand upon your point, I don't have any problem with using drones in conjucntion with law enforcement officers that are in waiting in cars along a road, the idea being the drone spots a speeding vehicle, and the officer makes the bust, thereby making sure that person who's speedng get the ticket, because as it's been pointed out, sometimes you let someone borrow your car, and its not right for the owner of a car who wasn't speeding to get a ticket & points on their license and the other person to get off scott-free. Otherwise, using drones like this is like having an aerial red-light camera. "Sorry Mr./Ms. car owner. It doesn't matter to us in your local government who was driving the car when it was caught, we just want the money."

      June 14, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      Same as bear in the air, the plane calls a car to pull you over. The drone isn't going to land and give you a ticket, you know.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DPB

    For Speeding???? I think it is a non-issue since it would be too expensive. BUT I wish they would do something...here I live it is dangerous to drive since no one pays attention to "ANY" road rules... every morning I am passed by 40 cars going 60 (plus) in the 40 MPH zone.... BUT It is what you would expect around Washington DC where no one really cares about anyone else...

    June 14, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      It sounds like you are the dangerous driving. Driving well below the flow of traffic and causing congestion.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  14. Pat

    Many States use aerial surveilance of speeders with choppers and small aircraft so what's the difference if the aircraft is manned or not?

    The problem American's should have witht he drones is Obama, the Peace Prize winner, using the Overseas, as in Yemen to assasinate AMERICAN citizens. Now they are allegedly muslim terrorists,BUT, they are being whacked without any jurisprudence other than Barry putting them on, and crossing them off, his Death List; and, a few them have been US Born and are still US Citizens. No POTUS that we know of, by public admission anyway, has assasinated US Citizens abroad other than our esteemed Nobel winner...

    June 14, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • ILOVETHE 80's

      Speeding tickets to drone missile strikes.....great tie in !

      June 14, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Now they are allegedly muslim terrorists,BUT, they are being whacked without any jurisprudence other than Barry putting them on, and crossing them off, his Death List; and, a few them have been US Born and are still US Citizens."
      1. Learn to use commas before someone chokes you. It's like reading something a kid wrote.
      2. I am ok with American traitors being killed, here or overseas. They knew we wanted them and didn't turn themselves in for a trial. Shoot them in the eye and drop them in the sea, like their leader.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jerry

    We keep talking about budgets so how much does one Drone cost and how many tickets do they need to produce in order to pay for themselves?

    June 14, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
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