A majority of Americans support some civilian uses of unmanned drone aircraft but routine policing, such as watching for speeders, isn't among them, a new poll shows.
The Monmouth University poll asked survey participants about four potential law enforcement uses of drones. Some 30,000 drones are expected to be in use in the nation's skies by 2020, according to one estimate.
The vast majority of those polled, 80 percent, liked the idea of using drones to help with search and rescue missions. And 2 out of 3 respondents also supported their use to track down escaped criminals and control illegal immigration on the border.
But survey respondents strongly opposed using drones to issue speeding tickets. Just 23 percent said they supported employing drones for such routine police activity while 67 percent opposed it.
“Americans clearly support using drone technology in special circumstances, but they are a bit leery of more routine use by local law enforcement agencies,” said Patrick Murray, director of the New Jersey-based Monmouth University Polling Institute.
As recently reported by The Huffington Post, the Department of Homeland Security has also been working to accelerate the adoption of drones by local law enforcement agencies as the Federal Aviation Administration revises its rules to allow unpiloted aircraft to operate safely within national airspace.
The potential for thousands more eyes in the sky, even those with laudable missions, raised privacy concerns for nearly 2 out of 3 surveyed. According to the poll, 42 percent of Americans would be very concerned and 22 percent would be somewhat concerned about their privacy if U.S. law enforcement officials started using unmanned drones with high-tech surveillance cameras. Only 15 percent said they would not be concerned at all while 16 percent said they would be just a little concerned.
Opinions also diverged according to the race and ethnicity of respondents. Half or more of blacks and Hispanics said they would be very concerned about privacy issues related to domestic drone use compared with just 39 percent of whites and 38 percent of Asians.
When it came to a question about using drones to patrol the border, whites were most supportive, with 70 percent approving this. But a smaller majority of Hispanics (58 percent) and Asians (59 percent) felt the same way. And fewer than half of blacks polled (46 percent) support drone surveillance on the border. The survey noted that 70 percent of residents of Southwestern border states approve the use of drones to stop illegal immigration, a percentage the survey said was "not significantly different from those living in other parts of the country."
The telephone poll of 1,708 adults conducted June 4 to 6 has a margin of error of 2.4 percent.