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

Post by:
Filed under: Aviation • Crime • FAA • Politics • Technology • Terrorism • U.S.
soundoff (863 Responses)
  1. raptor57

    they have been handing out speeding tickets from manned aircraft for years. i am more concerned about our "dear leader" knocking us down to the same level as any other third world country.

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

      California law prohibits speed traps anyway. Officers can't determine a car's speed by timing it between two markings on the road as is done routinely in other states, and thus VASCAR cannot be legally used nor can aircraft use road markings to time a car. The aircraft must pace the car, but usually has to call in a ground unit to pace them. The same rules would apply to a UAV. Anyway, the Chippies cannot even afford to buy new cars, which just breaks my heart.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seraphim0

      does it hurt being so deluded?

      June 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @raptor57: I'm concerned that you're actually allowed to use a keyboard. It's been nearly four years and none of the fear-mongering from the 2008 campaign has come true. Yet still you try to spread fear. Why? Still in shock that Osama bin Ladin is dead and al Qaida is being further degraded every day? Your "dear leader" has kept you safe and you hate him for it. That's beyond bizarre. Wouldn't the "dear leader" have arrested Rush Limbaugh and taken Fox News off the air if he were the tyrant that you fear? Would we even be having an election in 2012? Come back to reality. It's a lot more fun than mindless political rhetoric.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JeffinIL

    The only thing drones flying over the US is good for is target practice.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cheese Wonton

    I have a little bit of news for all the worry warts out there. The same sensors you are fretting about have been flying around our cities for decades underneath police helicopters. Low light cameras, infrared equipment, all of that is in the air now. And the military has operated vastly more powerful surviellance systems on manned aircraft for decades as well, all without a whimper or any signs of apparent abuse. Find out what aircraft such as the U-2, E-2 Hawkeye, E-3 Sentinel, EC-135 Rivet Joint and E-8 JSTARS can do. The range and discrimination of their sensors are far greater than those on any UAV and they have been in the air over our nation since the late 1950's in the case of the U-2, and the 1980's for the E-2, E-3 and EC-135. They had less powerful predecessors too in the form of highly modified Lockheed Constellations and the Navy's E-1 Tracer or the old E-3A Skywarrior.
    But, as usual, ignorance rules the day.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • jeff

      The only ones sounding like wimps, are the ones that think we need drones in the air to stay "safe". Get a clue bud.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I really do feel a lot better about military/police spying on civilians now that you point out how long it has been going on.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • HenryMiller

      I'm not worried about million-bucks-a-pop surveillance equipment–there's too little of that over the US to worry about. It's hundred-bucks-a-pop things any police department could afford to spy on people that bothers me.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. chill

    Rantings of a clearly delusional blogger is not evidence.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Wise Up

    Why are so many people so full of mindless fear? This is the "home of the brave," people! Why be a timid mouse, afraid that someone is watching you? If you don't want to be on camera, don't go to stores or drive on public roads or go to airports or train stations. There are already cameras in all of those places and they've been there for about half a century. As for aerial drones, how many local governments have budgets for something like that? The insurance liability alone (in case of a drone crash) would make it extremely unlikely. People, please get a grip on reality. And stop sounding like wimps.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Innkahoots

    Can't wait for the drone shopping cart to come out. Program it, send it to the store, it gets the food, it waits in line, it pays the bill, it brings it home. Now thats what I call good technology.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Orwellian

    A constant vigil over your every move.
    Brother is creeping in, and somebody he is going to be Big.
    The drone patrol over American skies would be a mistake and a great threat to liberty.

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

      @Orwellian: except not. Take a look around the next time you're at a shopping mall, or an airport, or inside a store. Cameras are everywhere. Yet liberty is intact. You've no doubt seen crime surveillance video on your local TV news fro years. Businesses and police departments have routinely used surveillance video since last century. It's not something new or scary. Liberty is not remotely at risk. You've been on camera for most of all of your life. If Big Brother is real, you've been living with him for a long time, yet this is still the land of the free.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jeff

    Right to face your acusser. End of case. These will be just like the traffic cams if used in such a way. The only threat these "tickets" will have is against your credit rating. Got bad credit? throw the tickets in the trash.

    The morons supporting this, I can't wait till you get your first ticket and you were not driving. Far to much resonable doubt for these charges to ever stand a chance in a court of law.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • What

      You're talking about things related to criminal prosecution. For example, proving a traffic violation is only to be done by the preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not that you committed the offense) and not beyond a reasonable doubt.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @jeff: actually this is no different from red light cameras. The ticket goes to the car's registered owner, no matter who was driving when the offense occurred. It's already been tested in court, and upheld. If your car was stolen and the thief committed the violation, you're off the hook. Provided you reported the theft before the violation occurred, else everyone would use that as an excuse.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    Thank you, I'm definitely not voting for him now.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 1000 and one

    The new duct-tape!

    June 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. HenryMiller

    I'm going to predict that if any American agency starts using drones to spy on American citizens, the sale of shotguns is going to go up.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • todd

      I wonder who owns the 300 ft. of sky above my house? I guess I will find out if one flies over.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @HenryMiller: shotgun sales won't go up, because no U.S. agency would ever use drones to spy on ordinary citizens. First off, it would be illegal. Second, U.S. agencies are manned by citizens like the rest of us. They have no stake in allowing spying on citizens because that would subject them to the same sort of spying. When you have elected government, in which any party can be in power at any give time, spying on ordinary citizens serves no purpose. Democracy keeps you safe from a police state. Vote in every election and encourage everyone you know to vote. Any citizen can be elected to office, and every two years there's an election. The American citizens are the American government. There is no "the government" and "the citizens." In a Democracy, the government is composed of citizens whose fellow citizens decide how long they get to remain in government. There is nothing to fear here.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mike

    Bet they do it anyways.... Iowans did not want traffic speed cameras. The elected officials went against the majority citing that WE don't know how to take care of ourselves... and did it anyways. So much for local people dealing with their own issues when even local leaders won't listen to their own people. Of course the leaders probably got some kind of bribe. Why else would they sell out their own people so that 1/3 of the ticket goes to Australia...

    June 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Friday

      @Mike: Can't believe Iowa would be that odd. Thing is, if your elected officials went against the will of the majority, the majority has the option of voting them out and replacing them with new officials. Even so, don't expect those speed cameras to go away. They become a cash cow. People don't like taxes, so government has to get money in other ways, like revenues from speed cameras. Alternatively, you could lobby the officials to raise the speed limit. Or just not speed. What ever floats your boat. Personally, when I see a sign that warns of speed cameras, I slow down. In my state, speed limits have been enforced from aircraft for as long as I've been driving (decades). Drones are not scarey to me. I've never had a speeding ticket and probably never will.

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

    Big Brother has really arrived!

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

      He arrived around 1974. He's not really that scarey.

      June 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Anon

    If this comes to pass, then I have a new business plan.

    I will design drones to follow congresspeople and other high ranking political figures around. Then I will sell these drones to members of the opposing political party. Maybe to paparazzi, too. That should fix the issue quite nicely.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ralph

    Don't even think about it.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37