By Patrick Murray
But public registers concern about own privacy
With 30,000 drone aircraft expected to patrol the nation’s skies within a decade, the Monmouth University Poll finds the American public supports many applications of this technology. Routine policing, though, is not among them.
A majority of Americans have heard either a great deal (27 percent) or some (29 percent) news about the use of unmanned surveillance drones by the U.S. military. Another 22 percent have heard only a little and 22 percent have heard nothing at all. The Department of Homeland Security has also been developing drones to patrol the nation’s borders and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been revising rules to widen the use of drones for other domestic purposes.
The poll asked a national sample about four potential uses of unmanned drones by U.S. law enforcement. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the idea of using drones to help with search and rescue missions (80 percent). Two-thirds of the public also support using drones to track down runaway criminals (67 percent) and control illegal immigration on the nation’s border (64 percent).
One area where Americans say that drones should not be used, though, is to issue speeding tickets. Only 23 percent support using drones for this routine police activity while a large majority of 67 percent oppose the idea.
Americans clearly support using drone technology in special circumstances, but they are a bit leery of more routine use by local law enforcement agencies.
Despite widespread support for certain domestic applications of drone technology, the potential for more routine use could raise privacy issues. Nearly 2-in-3 Americans express at least some concern in this area. Specifically, 42 percent of Americans would be very concerned and 22 percent would be somewhat concerned about their own privacy if U.S. law enforcement started using unmanned drones with high-tech surveillance cameras. Another 16 percent would be just a little concerned and 15 perent would not be concerned at all. Black (54 percent) and Hispanic (50 percent) residents are somewhat more likely than white (39 percent) and Asian (38 percent) residents to say they would be very concerned about privacy issues related to domestic drone use.
The poll found that pre-existing knowledge about military drones did not substantially affect support for domestic drone uses or potential concern about privacy issues.
Employing drones for border patrol is the only potential use covered in the poll that produces notable demographic differences in support. White residents are most supportive (70 percent). A sizeable but smaller majority of Hispanic (58 percent) and Asian (59 percent) residents feel the same. However, fewer than half of black residents (46 percent) support the use of border-patrolling drones. Interestingly, support for this use among residents of southwestern border states (70 percent) is not significantly different from those living in other parts of the country.
The latest Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 1,708 adults from June 4-6. This sample has a margin of error of +2.4 percent.
The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch. The poll, which was released the day after a Navy drone crashed in Maryland, did not ask about possible safety concerns.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Monmouth University graduate students Susan Kane and Andrew Spata contributed.