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. Saboth

    "Go ahead and use drones to track down criminals, to combat illegal immigration or for search-and-rescue missions. But to issue traffic citations?" Lol, that's not how it works. You give government power, they use it. It's an all or nothing thing. We were told Homeland Security was ONLY designed to go after terrorists. Now it enforces small time drug crimes, IP protection for corporations and anything in-between. Give the government powers to spy on citizens with drones and they'll soon be doing it for the MPAA, RIAA, and everyone in-between. Not that they need permission, if you've looked at recent legislation passed, they already have the power to launch drones and spy on us.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Obamajoe

    speeding may not the be real reason !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    take a look of German,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    June 14, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Obamajoe

    Germany 4.5-- 7.2-- 7.2

    America 12.3-– 15-- 8.5

    Country--- Road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year --Road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles Road fatalitie --per 1 billion vehicle-km

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

    Nevertheless, it will come. The lure of speeding money is far too great.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TiredOfPaying

    I look forward to the youtube videos (both from the homeowners and from the drone controllers) which show the drone being blown out of the sky.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rand Paul

    I believe that teeny tiny little drones have crawled up my nose and are controlling my brain.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hugh Jass

    Maybe your local cops are different; if my sheriff got an order to surveil civilians with a drone, he'd be in the newspapers the next day refusing to either do it OR keep it secret. Cops have wives and kids too, and they tend towards a sort of realistic conservatism; no way they would all be onboard with this.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rand Paul

    I saw George Orwell riding on a drone last night. He was waving.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • youduped

      welcome to the show, great american diaspora

      June 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. gfreel

    Will the cost of the Drone's fuel be added to the ticket?

    June 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • USminority

      Simple solution. Less police will free up the income. When the end is near, we won't be looking up at the sky. We will be looking at the drones.

      June 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Leprakawn

    No interesting news here at CNN you say. Sure, then why are you posting so frequently here???

    June 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rand Paul

    Every time I turn my head, a drone ducks behind me. I can hear it back there, revving its jet engines, but it's too quick for me. Help me somebody!

    June 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Venturer

    It would not be economical to use drones to create traffic fines. Many traffic fines today are not paid. Some cities are owed millions by those who never paid the ticket. Just writing a ticket doesn't mean revenue will be pouring in. Counties and cities don't have the manpower to collect the fines.

    June 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      They should never make their budgets dependent on fines anyways.

      June 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cliff Cook

    Orwell was an optimist.

    450 million rounds of ammunition plus 30,000 military-owned-and-armed UAVs, plus an unknown (as-of-yet) number of "law enforcement"-owned (and probably armed at some point) drones, plus untold thousands of "homeland (in)security"-owned-and-armed drones, equals the greatest threat to individual American liberties we have faced since 1776, especially when paired with the kinds of surveillance and intelligence-gathering technologies either already available or emerging daily.

    Oops–I've said too much.... They're at the door. It may be too la

    June 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Piranha

    And of course some lawyers are already preparing a defense againts any future violations coming from this.

    June 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rick

    I see them flying over over 85 and 101 leaving San Jose, CA every day. Its the only flying object in the sky that doesn't move compared to the jets and airbus' taking off SJIA. These things could be surveying our borders instead their trying to make money off the legal already living here...Its not a matter of should we allow this, its already been done.

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