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. longtooth

    I just went out naked and gave the sky the finger.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. iaver

    can anyone say BIG BROTHER?? Reps. Ed Markey and Joe Barton's questions are on point and must be clarified before any use is authorized.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "can anyone say BIG BROTHER??" Dude, calm down. It's the same as an airplane except that if it crashes, the pilot is safe on the ground already. They use planes for this stuff already. The first time some amateur runs into a semi with one of these drones is the last day they will be allowed to use them.

      June 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. fearlessdude

    Many drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment. Later small missiles will be incorporated to eliminate the bad guys.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. orion7x

    Fix the highways and roads and bridges!!! Stop wasting money on this kind of crap. FIX SOMETHING!

    June 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Barry G.

    Big Brother, much?

    June 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. no

    "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"

    THEY POLL'D 1700 PEOPLE. THATS A FRACTION OF A SMALL US CITY. THE USA DOES NOT WANT DRONES IN OUR AIR. between this and the patriot act alone, we are BEYOND the horrors warned in '1984'. gg eff my country

    June 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chrissy333

      That's because George Orwell was an occultist and this is what they've been planning all along.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Barry G.

    G. O-r-w-e-l-l was right.

    He hit the nail right on the head in his classic novel
    9-teen 80 four

    He just had the date wrong.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chrissy333

    I am the eye in the sky
    Looking at you
    I can read your mind
    I am the maker of rules
    Dealing with fools
    I can cheat you blind
    And I don't need to see anymore
    To know that
    I can read your mind
    I can read your mind

    June 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. smather2175

    Dang, I jay-walked yesterday and if hadn't been walking really fast that hell-fire missile might have hit me.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Barry G.

    Do you mean to tell me that we have so many drones that we can afford to use some of them to catch speeders?

    Do you mean that we don't need to be using all of them to secure our borders and stop those who pose a threat to our troops and our country?

    Waste taxpayer money much?

    Who's responsible for this misguided decision?

    've secured our borders from all dangers, and we've

    June 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • bozobucks

      Uh...it doesn't say they said they were going to use them for speeding tickets. That's what the author proposed in the poll so don't get your panties in a wrinkle.

      June 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rick

    If you ain't a speed'in, you ain't a gotta worry about it.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredOfPaying

      I hate the 'If you're not doing anything wrong then you've got nothing to hide' argument.

      Please give me your address and keys so that I can search through your house. If you're not doing anything wrong you got noting to hide, right? I'd also like to look at your portfolio.... those Apple stocks you own generate profits from Slave Labor, ya know. That bottle of cleaner is stored too close to the bleach...You trying to make a bomb? Please step on this scale... you're too FAT! Do you know that you're causing a health care crisis with your bad health? Those antiques you have... they look like stolen antiquites to me... better confiscate them all. Hey... this picture your 4-year old drew looks like she's beating her dog! What you say... she's petting it? Naw, lets get CPS involved and we'll let you know if you can ever see her again.

      Finally, I watched you pleasuring your wife last night. You're doing it wrong. We'll be sending a government minder by to do the job properly. And you're going off to a reindoctrination camp, sicko.

      June 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe Williams

    I will shoot it right out of the sky.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chrissy333

    Two words: Prison Planet

    June 14, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Obamajoe

      Find your Astral body,,,,,,,,,,,,

      June 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Obamajoe

    ????????cost ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    June 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Chrissy333

    Why don't we just go ahead and give up all of our freedoms and privacy just so we can all feel safe and secure from those bad criminals called speeders!

    June 14, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
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