Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: This is another in a series of “WND/WENZEL POLLS” conducted exclusively for WND by the public-opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies.
A new poll has uncovered a “shocking willingness” on the part of Americans to give up their privacy and freedoms for the sake of “safety,” just at a time when the Obama administration is launching an assault on the self-defense rights guarded by the Second Amendment.
“As leaders in Washington prepare an assault on the Second Amendment, a majority of Americans – 61 percent – said they believe that domestic use of drones by government and law enforcement agencies represents a violation of people’s right to privacy,” said Fritz Wenzel, president of Wenzel Strategies.
It was his public-opinion research and media consulting company, Wenzel Strategies, that released the results of a telephone poll conducted for WND. It was taken Jan. 9-12 and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.22 percentage points.
Wenzel said the federal government “has announced plans to use drones domestically in certain circumstances, and the survey finding that 20 percent are just fine with that is shocking.”
Another 18 percent said they aren’t sure about whether the spy drones would violate the privacy of citizens.
“But the survey also shows a shocking willingness of Americans to forfeit their freedoms to the government under the guise of safety, as a plurality of 46 percent said they believe local governments should use cameras to monitor traffic on public roadways,” he said.
The survey recalls Benjamin Franklin’s admonition, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Some 20 percent of respondents said local and state law enforcement agencies should have and use drones with live-broadcast cameras. Of those who considered themselves “very liberal,” 28 percent supported the idea, while only 16 percent of the “very conservative” favored it.
The right end of the political spectrum was more confident of its position, with 72 percent expressing the belief that drones violate privacy laws and only 12 percent were unsure. On the liberal end of the scale, only 46 percent said drones violate privacy and 26 percent were uncertain.
But the poll also indicated Americans have grown accustomed to intrusions by the government.
While 61 percent of Americans still say drones, a relatively new development, violate privacy, only 40 percent say the same thing about red-light cameras, which have been around years longer.
Added Wenzel: “Another 40 percent said they should not be used because they violate the privacy of citizens. At the same time, however, a plurality of 46 percent said they believe those cameras are first and foremost a government grab for cash from citizens and secondly a tool to improve safety. Another 42 percent said they think the cameras mainly promote safe motoring.”
Still, the question about the use of red-light cameras drew a huge split between the left and right ends of the political scale. Some 52 percent of the “very liberal” said government should use cameras, and only 26 percent said they violate privacy. On the other end of the scale, the “very conservative” by a large majority, 59 percent, said they violate privacy. Only 31 percent said government should use the camera.
Records recently released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed the federal government has approved dozens of licenses for unmanned aerial surveillance drones across the United States.
The organization reported there are licenses held by state and local law enforcement agencies, universities along with the Air Force, Marine Corps and DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Some of the records show drones used for purposes as sensible as helping the U.S. Forest Service fight forest fires. But other purposes, such as performing aerial observation of houses when serving warrants or covert surveillance of drug sales, have prompted EFF to question privacy issues.
“Perhaps the scariest is the technology carried by a Reaper drone the Air Force is flying near Lincoln, Nev., and in areas of California and Utah,” EFF reports. “This drone uses ‘Gorgon Stare’ technology, which Wikipedia defines as ‘a spherical array of nine cameras attached to an aerial drone … capable of capturing motion imagery of an entire city.’ … This technology takes surveillance to a whole new level.”
The use of military drones further raised flags in a New York Times report last year, when reporter Mark Mazzetti joined a group of observers watching drone use at Holloman Air Force Base in remote New Mexico and discovered the military was practicing for foreign missions by spying on American vehicles.
“A white SUV traveling along a highway adjacent to the base came into the cross hairs [of the drone's view] and was tracked as it headed south along the desert road,” Mazzetti wrote. “When the S.U.V. drove out of the picture, the drone began following another car.
“‘Wait, you guys practice tracking enemies by using civilian cars?’ a reporter asked,” according to Mazzetti. “One Air Force officer responded that this was only a training mission, and then the group was quickly hustled out of the room.”
EFF clarified that while the U.S. military doesn’t need an FAA license to fly drones over its own military bases, which is “restricted airspace”, it does need a license to fly in the national airspace, which is almost everywhere else in the U.S.
“And, as we’ve learned from these records,” EFF reports, “the Air Force and Marine Corps regularly fly both large and small drones in the national airspace all around the country.”
The response so far has included a plan from Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey to create guidelines and limitations on how the Federal Aviation Administration licenses drones.