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. Obama Mama

    Police state. What size skivvies do you wear? Yep, big brother is watchin' you, watchin' watchin' you. No privacy in the name of protection.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. skinsrock

    I work in Fairfax Co VA & I guarantee the Police state of VA will issue tickets... The VA Governor is on record as saying he can't wait for the drones... There is no doubt in my mind they are going to use them for speed enforcement & of course some judge will get a pile in an envelop & make it perfectly legal.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michael

    Brewer had the police cams removed....

    June 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scott

    Maybe I missed the point of the article... But why can't COPS DO THEIR JOB and stop people for speeding themselves? I mean, we all know they're not really stopping any real crime, and they prove that by hiding behind billboards waiting for people to drive by too fast, but now we're going to give them even LESS of a reason to do no work? Maybe instead of spending money on drones to capture Americans, we should use that money to train the cops so they actually know the law and not just how to beat up minorities.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son.

      Cops do stop(pull over) speeders. The city/states make quite a lot of money. But tickets don’t stop people from speeding.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |

    IMHO: I see no controversy in use of drones nor hear any viable arguments against using drones to surveil and monitor american nation; It is just normal US progression of police enforcement.
    It is far too late to change direction of police powers in this nation, we voted and let laws be legislated seeking security that emplaced a need to monitor individual activity.
    Drone surveilance is an actuality today and will only grow to become an accepted fact of american life.
    Drones are only an adjunct to our new computerixed monitoring system that indeed can monitor each and every monetary transaction, phhone conversation and keep trsck of your everyday work environment as well.
    Drones of the mechanical kind, Meet the flesh and blood american drones.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rkm

    And speeding tickets are the only thing people are concerned with by employing these things?
    My oh my, how shallow of people.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      rkm – exit your ivory tower.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. HPN

    I think I will do like, Iran and just find out the frequency these babies are on, and really put on an air show for the people below.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. PoopDolla

    Here in Arlington, Tx they came into the local Hobbytown USA where I was working to get helicopters to practice with before they tried with their new $40k drone...and yes it is equipped with infrared cameras, FLIR cameras, Hi-Def cameras and wait for it...microphones designed to pickup speech from as far away as 500 yards...now thats a little bit too close for comfort on invading my privacy IMO...

    June 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AGeek

    Uhm. At the operational cost of a drone, using it for speed violations would cost mayors, governors, etc. their jobs. No taxpayer is willing to sit idly for that kind of waste based on the events of the past few years.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Politico

      How about when the government jams something onto us like ObamaCare using shenanigans. Taxpayers have NO say so. The buffoons in our government do what they want regardless of the cost to our country. It all depends on the amount of money handed over to government by lobbyists.

      June 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    It seems that that United States has evolved into a country dominated by both fear and selfish greed. That will be the country's downfall.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @Jim: this is not unique to the U.S. It's common in most industrialized nations. Not the drone part, but the cameras-are-everywhere part. In Germany, for example, the speed cameras are at fixed locations on the ground. They don't fly. Yet.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrBo

      I find it hilarious that 67% say drones should be used to locate criminals, and yet 67% are also opposed to locate criminals (speedsters, that is).


      June 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Jim – the downfall doesn't happen in an instant. Look around...we're in it.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. trekie70

    Some Guy:"i was stopped for DUI and it has ruined my life at 26. !!"

    Sorry, Some Guy, no sympathy for you here. I personally think a DUI should result in permanent loss of license because you are a severe road hazard. If you're still that dumb at 26, I pity you.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • idunno

      As an American citizen you consent to having 90% of your life outside of your home on camera, like it or don't go outside. You also can expect to catch a felony case for turning your cameras on authorities. Sounds kinda pathetic that they have no problem video taping you but they complained about being video taped (probably because too many of them were caught making illegal arrests) so now we can't video tape them.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cecil Nixxon

    Four pound drones? The answer is 12 gauge buckshot.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mr grumpy

    Big Brother is watching. How long before a "terrorist" is assassinated on American soil? Maybe Obama is already compiling his list of undesirables. Didn't Napolitano already label returning vets as terrorists?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @Mr. Grumpy: dude you have nothing to fear. Else you would already be dead and Fox News would be off the air. Your sympathy for terrorists is touching, but so misplaced. Seriously, you think your government is out to get you? Simple solution: move to Canada, or any other country where you can feel safer. Of course, you'll carry your delusions with you where ever you go, so you'll never really feel safe at all.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • cmh01

      Please Ms. Palin, can you tell us more about how Obama is going to use drones to hunt down and kill war ventrans?

      June 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Washington

      No, that is a fallacy, but returning vets are being targeted by radical right-wing extremists groups (the same ones that led to the Oklahoma terrorist attack).

      June 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SlipperySlope

    Our President is actively using CIA operated drones to kill people-no trial, just executions. Why on earth would the American people be willing to allow drones over our country for ANY purpose.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • unknown man

      Just wait until rouge nations use them on us...lol
      yea baby......

      June 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @SlipperySlope: no slope. By "kill people" you mean of course keep you safe by taking out terrorists. You don't want to give them trials anyway, so what do you care? If not for the drone program and the terrorists came here and killed your loved ones, you'd be screaming about why the President didn't protect them. Notice how you have no problem with the CIA drone operators who actually take down the terrorists. You only gripe about the President. Because you have no problem with the drone program or with killing terrorists. You only have a problem with the President not being a Republican. You didn't think there was a "slippery slope" when George W. Bush condoned use of secret prisons, torture, and warrant-less wiretaps, but now killing terrorists is a "slippery slope"? Uh huh.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. idunno

    Who needs drones when they are already lazy enough to catch you by camera? Which is ironic because it's a felony if you video tape them.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
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