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Two New Surveys Assess Public Attitudes Toward Unmanned Aerial Systems

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UNLV Criminal Justice researchers issue national surveys to understand perception of UAS — or aerial drone — use in private and public settings.
Campus News  |  Sep 25, 2014  |  By Afsha Bawany
Media Contact: Afsha Bawany, UNLV Office of Media Relations, (702) 895-5515

UNLV's Center for Crime and Justice Policy is studying public attitudes toward unmanned aerial systems. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

The UNLV Center for Crime and Justice Policy recently issued results from two national web surveys assessing public attitudes toward the activities of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, and their use in domestic surveillance programs.

The surveys are part of the center's "Research in Brief" series and are designed to measure public attitudes on the emerging technology as UAS usage continues to take off in Nevada and across the country. In January, the Federal Aviation Administration designated Nevada as one of six locations for UAS testing and development.

The surveys, conducted in June with feedback captured from hundreds of U.S. adults, reveal that attitudes toward UAS are complex and strongly influenced by various factors, including how and where they are used and who is using them.

"UAS use will be widespread in the near future, so it is critical to develop well-conceived policy and laws to govern the use of this technology," said Joel Lieberman, professor and chair of the UNLV criminal justice department and co-author on the reports. "We are conducting this work to provide a strong foundation, grounded in social science research, to create relevant laws and policy decisions that will lead to a more effective implementation of UAS into society."

According to the surveys, there is general support for UAS use in search and rescue operations, military operations and climate/geological mapping, but strong opposition to UAS for monitoring citizens, especially around their homes and at their workplace.

Both awareness of and public support for UAS use in certain circumstances also varied for respondents based on factors like age, income, political party affiliation, and marital status.

"The use and proposed applications of aerial drone technology in a variety of public and private settings is at the center of ongoing public policy debates about the issues of public safety, personal privacy, and the acceptable balance between them," report authors said. "Based on the findings from this national survey of Internet users, public acceptance of aerial drone usage is highly contextual, depending upon the specific area of its application."

UNLV Criminal Justice professors Terance Miethe, Joel Lieberman, and Emily Troshnyski along with graduate students Mari Sakiyama and Milia Heen, conducted the surveys and expect to release a Nevada-specific survey on UAS later this year.

Lieberman and Miethe will also join university and national experts in law, technology and engineering to discuss the implications for drone use at a UNLV Symposium on UAS in Nevada at 2 p.m. on Oct. 16 at the UNLV Boyd School of Law.

Read the "Research in Brief" Surveys

Research in Brief reports are part of the "State Data Brief" series conducted by the Center for Crime and Justice Policy within the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs at UNLV.

Read "Public Attitudes About Aerial Drone Activities," conducted online in early June and captured results from 636 U.S. adults.

Read "Aerial Drones, Domestic Surveillance, and Public Opinion of Adults in the United States," conducted in mid-June with 524 U.S. adult respondents.