Americans support drones in law enforcement, with limits

Americans back the use of unmanned aerial surveillance drones in aspects of domestic law enforcement, but a majority favors requiring court orders before the vehicles can be deployed, according to a new Monmouth University Poll.

The public is less supportive of using armed drones, however, the poll finds.

Questioned about three potential U.S. law enforcement tasks for drones, 83 percent of respondents support the idea of using surveillance drones to help with search-and-rescue missions, and 62 percent favor deploying drones to help control illegal immigration on the nation’s borders. But only 21 percent support using drones to issue speeding tickets. (Surprised the number is that high.)

Forty-four percent say it’s OK to use armed drones in border protection, a significant drop from the majority supporting surveillance. But 52 percent say they would be fine with the use of drones in hostage situations.

“Support for the use of law enforcement drones in U.S. airspace has not changed in the past year, but this new poll shows there are significant caveats – for one, thee public overwhelmingly supports judicial oversight before drones are employed,” said Patrick Murray, director of the New Jersey-based Monmouth University Polling Institute.

More than three out of four Americans (76 percent) say that law enforcement should be required to get a warrant before deploying drones in any case.

The routine employment of law enforcement drones could violate privacy, and 2-in-3 Americans express some level of concern about that. Forty-nine percent say they very concerned and 20 percent somewhat concerned about protecting their own privacy if policing agencies started using unmanned drones with high-tech surveillance cameras and recording equipment.

Results of the survey are based on phone interviews with 1,012 U.S. adults, conducted July 25-30. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.