Opinion: Leery of surveillance drones

The Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times on surveillance drones:

Americans are leery about the use of domestic drones as the Federal Aviation Administration takes on the task of developing plans to open U.S. skies to the domestic use of the unmanned aircraft by police, other agencies and individuals.

The FAA licenses a limited use of drones now, but it has been directed to identify six sites for testing how drones can be safely integrated into national airspace along with civilian and military aircraft. It has a September 2015 deadline for defining the regulations that would greatly expand their use. The FAA will draft rules setting limits on size, flight restrictions and who is permitted to operate drones.

The Department of Homeland Security uses drones to patrol the northern and southern borders. Domestic drones vary in size from a few ounces to larger ones resembling those used to conduct surveillance and other military operations overseas. Law enforcement officials see the drones already in use as a low-cost alternative to helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to conduct search-and-rescue operations, investigating an accident scene or other surveillance. Some drones can stay aloft for up to 30 hours.

Those uses would be all right with the majority of Americans, according to a poll by the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Four of five respondents said they would support drones in search-and-rescue missions with two-thirds approving of their use for patrolling the borders and tracking down criminals. But the majority of Americans were less supportive of drones for other traditional policing activities.

Fewer than one in four supported using them to patrol streets and highways for speeders. "The public is basically saying (drones) should be used in special cases, but should not be used as a standard practice of law enforcement," said Patrick Murray, director of the polling institute.

Four out of five had some concerns about their privacy, which is understandable given the possibility that in the next few years there could be thousands of high-tech drones flying unnoticed overhead.




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