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. Bill Kangas

    If you drive the speed limit and aren't breaking the law, you have nothing to worry about. Get over it you selfish, whining children.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shadowflash1522

      It's not so black and white, Bill. If you're rushing your wife to the emergency room (let's say she had a horrible accident and suffered internal bleeding) and time matters, you're going to put the pedal to the metal rather than putzing along under the speed limit. Sure it's a crime, but what's more important: your wife's life or the speeding ticket? A human being can make that distinction. A drone at 10,000 feet can't.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Like a BOSS

    its a ROBO Cop

    June 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Roto

    I'm fine with drone speeding tickets. You speed to pay. Yes, you can speed. But you pay. Simple.

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

    Funny thing in the picture is, that's not even an American drone pictured...it's an Israeli drone and the letters IAI stand for Israel aircraft industries..

    June 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kevin

    Wow, watch fox news much?

    June 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Red Alert

    Drones should never be used on any citizens of the USA on pain of death. This is something that people need to keep on top of it. Never give up this right.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Faxon

      WHAT "Right"???

      June 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. zaqaz

    Can't put the genie in the bottle. With the advent of big brother in the traffic arena, it will only grow as an industry.

    Yet again: government is the problem, not the solution.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. joe

    They should use drones. For people who stop at a light in the middle of the intersection instead of behind the white safety line. For people who text and drive. For motorcycles with illegal mufflers. And they should blast them all to oblivion.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ya right

    Lie much?

    June 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Faxon

    Wow. This world is getting closer and closer to the Orwellian Horror that is about to overtake us all. Driven, it seems, by the technology, the companies willing to enslave all for a profit, and the politicians who see total control as an ultimate goal.

    I am sure the Framers would be horrified.

    Bloomberg, Obama, Hillary, and other freedom-hating liberals look pretty much like the Big Brother we all detested in the movie, and the liberals encourage it all.

    Get your guns and ammunition while you can, folks.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. joe

    They should use drones on trolls like you.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. pwnagepimp

    Real evidence?

    June 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dajowi

    Why of course Pakistan doesn't like the U.S. using drones over their air space seeking out and killing terrorists. If the Pakistanis turned over the terrorists to use instead of hiding them from us we wouldn't need to use the drones and their civilians wouldn't be harmed by our bombs.

    So the poll says that we don't mind using the drones to catch criminals. Well, aren't speeders breaking laws, making them de facto criminals? At least that will be their excuse.

    The government will expand the "missions" i.e. uses of these drones. Soon they'll have blimps such as the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) hanging out above your home with special infrared cameras and such watching your every moment

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

    Amazing how many people seem to think the issue is about speeding or speed limits, not about the frightening fact that tools developed for and by the military for the explicit use of spying on people and killing them are being utilized over American airspace.

    Focus, people.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cheese Wonton

      Vastly more powerful surviellance systems have been flying over the US for many decades on manned military aircraft, and no outcry or apparent signs of abuse. Get a grip.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • stateschool


      June 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @Jeremiah: dude, it's a flying camera. It's not a hunter-killer from theTerminator movies. We have elected government in the U.S. No elected official is going to do anything that endangers the public whose votes he/she needs for re-election. We're all citizens, even our elected officials. Elected officials would be under the same "danger" that the rest of us are. And with budgets so thin these days, who's going to be buying drones for traffic enforcement? The Beverly Hills P.D. maybe. Or the MIT campus police. Don't get worked up over nothing.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • todd

      Some people rationalize their speeding and "since we all do it"it shouldn't be strictly enforced. This is the "big brother" that we have alll been fearing. Get ready for your children's microchip implants right after their measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 1olddude

    Well, if they put enough of them up from all the Federal, State and local agencies that want them, then perhaps they'll all crash into each other up there, since none of the aforementioned agencies communicates with one another.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
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