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. ELH

    Drones catching speeders will go the same route as stop light cameras catching red light violators. Neither the drone nor the stop light camera can identify the actual driver. At best, the registered owner can be ticketed and in a court of law, the state will not be able to prove that the owner was the driver that committed the violation.

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

      If the vehicle is registered in your name, then you are responsible. If it's your child, you are responsible. If it's a "friend", be cautious of who you consider a "responsible" friend. 🙂 Ultimately, just accept responsibility for YOUR actions.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  2. dazzle ©


    June 14, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. anchorite

    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.

    Well guess what America, you've just given the go-ahead to use them for everything eventually. To law enforcement, speeders are criminals every bit as much as illegal aliens are criminals. What do you think, you can have a checklist for every citizen who gets to pick which LE agency gets to use what technology to stop what crimes by which people? You let the FAA approve them, and stack the courts with judges who are not friendly to the ACLU, and they'll be ubiquitous eventually.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      Speeding is decriminalized as an infraction. It is NOT a crime. However trespassing into a foreign country is a crime. So is SSN fraud, working illegally under the table, and not paying taxes. Nice try though.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. Rand Paul

    They are peeping in my window and watching me shower! Make it stop, daddy! Waaah!

    June 14, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rand Paul

    They follow me to the grocery store and then follow me home. It's getting to where I can't even meet my dealer in the open.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. Rand Paul

    Hillary Clinton controls them all personally.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  7. Rand Paul

    I saw Obama riding on a drone the other night. He gave me the finger, and no one believes me except my daddy.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rebecca

    I have so many problems with this, I don't even know where to begin. Aside from the rampant Big Brother issues that are ripe for abuse, THIS is what we're focusing on? The world economy is tanking, we're on the verge of war with several different nations, there's a massacre occurring in Syria, both our health care and educational systems are so ineffectual they're almost beyond repair...and we're throwing money at drones to catch people who are driving a little too fast for the antiquated speed limits? WAKE UP!! Middle class Americans have lost 40% of their wealth over the past 20 years. THAT is a problem, not this. Get your priorities straight. Fix the tax code. Then we'll talk about going 70 in a 55pmh zone.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rand Paul

    I found a drone hiding under my bed.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. shoos

    I don't like this at all. Privacy is a huge concern. I don't trust the Government with this kind of technology being used on our citizens. I feel that there is too much temptation on the Gov'ts part to infringe on my rights. There are to many people in public and private sectors who's ethics and integrity are questioned constantly. I don't like the transfer of power this allows. I'm not a fringe person in any way (left or right), but there are too many red flags being raised.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rand Paul

    Drones are allowed to vote in Texas.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Windbag McTavish

      My bagpipes have drones attached to them.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Satch

      That was hilarious.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CSI My Nannygoat

    Drones taste like chicken.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rand Paul

    I'm starting a fan club for Drones called "Dronies." Wanna join?

    June 14, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jason

    A complete waste of money. That's what this is.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. 1amazed1

    They do what they want to do regardless of what the american public has to say.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
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