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Poll: Americans OK with some domestic drones -- but not to catch speeders

U.S. Customs And Border Protecti / AP

This undated photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows an unmanned drone used to patrol the U.S.-Canadian border. The planes, which are based out of North Dakota, venture as far as Eastern Washington on their patrols.

Americans overwhelmingly support the use of drones for patrolling U.S. borders, tracking down criminals and aiding search-and-rescue missions, but they don’t want the unmanned craft used to issue speeding tickets, according to a poll.

The Monmouth University Polling Institute of New Jersey said it tested the four scenarios in anticipation of a national push that, according to estimates from the Federal Aviation Administration, could see up to 30,000 drones patrolling U.S. skies within a decade.

The FAA, under orders from Congress in a bill signed into law Feb. 14 by President Barack Obama, is expediting the expansion of domestic drone use.

And that’s OK with most Americans, the poll found.

“Americans clearly support using drone technology in special circumstances, but they are a bit leery of more routine use by local law enforcement agencies,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement.

The FAA issued 61 drone authorizations between November 2006 and June 30, 2011, including 13 for local police agencies and one for a state police agency. About 20 went to colleges and universities and others went to federal agencies.

Survey: World's opinion of US, Obama slips

The Department of Homeland Security, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in 2012 offered about $830 million in grants to states and cities for emergency preparedness. Drones could be funded under several of its programs.

The Monmouth University poll of 1,708 people called June 4-6 has a margin of error of 2.4 percent, the Institute said. Its chief findings:

  • More than half of Americans, 56 percent, had read “some” or a “great deal” about the U.S. military use of drones. The rest, about 44 percent, read “just a little or none at all.”
  • About two out of three Americans, or 67 percent, oppose the use of drones to issue speeding tickets. About 23 percent support it.
  • 64 percent support the use of drones to control illegal immigration on the nation’s borders.
  • 80 percent support the use of drones to help with search and rescue missions.
  • 67 percent support the use of drones to track down runaway criminals.
  • 64 percent are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their privacy if U.S. law enforcement uses drones with high-tech cameras.

The poll was released around the same time the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project showed global confidence in and attitudes toward the United States by 21 countries slipped since the beginning of President Barack Obama's presidency, in large part for the U.S. military use of drones targeting extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

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