By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — More than a third of Americans worry their privacy will suffer if drones like those used to spy on U.S. enemies overseas become the latest police tool for tracking suspected criminals at home, according to an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll.

Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with safety regulations that will clear the way for routine domestic use of unmanned aircraft within the next three years. The government is under pressure from a wide range of interests to open U.S. skies to drones. Oil companies want them to monitor pipelines. Environmentalists want them to count sea lions on remote islands. Farmers want them to fly over crops with sensors that can detect which fields are wet and which need watering. They’re already being used to help fight forest fires. And the list goes on.

Manufacturers are also keen to cash in on what they expect to be a burgeoning new drone market. Government and commercial drone-related expenditures are forecast to total $89 billion worldwide over the next decade. On the leading edge of that new market are state and local police departments, who say that in many cases drones are cheaper, more practical and more effective than manned aircraft. Most of them would be small drones, generally weighing less than 55 pounds. They could be used, for example, to search for missing children or to scout a location ahead of a SWAT team.

But privacy advocates caution that drones equipped with powerful cameras, including the latest infrared cameras that can “see” through walls, listening devices and other information-gathering technology raise the specter of a surveillance society in which the activities of ordinary citizens are monitored and recorded by the authorities.

Nearly half the public, 44 percent, supports allowing police forces inside the U.S. to use drones to assist police work, but a significant minority — 36 percent — say they “strongly oppose” or “somewhat oppose” police use of drones, according to a survey last month.

When asked if they were concerned that police departments’ use of drones for surveillance might cause them to lose privacy, 35 percent of respondents said they were “extremely concerned” or “very concerned.” An almost identical share, 36 percent, said they were “not too concerned” or “not concerned at all.”

Twenty-four percent fell in the middle, saying they were “somewhat concerned” about a potential loss of personal privacy.

David Eisner, president and CEO of the constitution center in Philadelphia, said he was surprised by the level of support for police use of drones.

“I had assumed that the idea that American police would be using the same technology that our military is using in Afghanistan would garner an almost hysterical response,” Eisner said. Support for drone use “shows that people are feeling less physically secure than they’d like to because they are willing to accept fairly extreme police action to improve that security.”

One poll respondent who said he has deep reservations about police use of drones was Tim Johnson, 55, a Houston real estate agent. He said he fears the data they gather will be misused, especially by other government agencies. It is possible government officials might use the information to create profiles of political enemies, he said.

Pointing to the growing use of traffic cameras and the Google’s mapping programs, Johnson said he sees police use of drones as an extension of technology trends that are already eroding privacy.

“I Googled my house,” Johnson said. “There’s my car sitting in the driveway —you can see the license plate number. And my living room picture window, you can see right into my living room. You can see my pictures on the wall. If I had been standing there in my underwear you could see me in my underwear.” Google says it tries to ensure privacy by blurring parts of images in its Street View feature.

“This information — there is just too much of it,” Johnson said. “I don’t support any of it.”

But Sheana Buchanan, 49, of Apple Valley, Calif., said she had no qualms about police using drones.

“I figure if you’re doing something wrong, then you should be concerned about it,” Buchanan said. “But if you’re a law-abiding citizen, if you’re concerned about safety … and it’s going to help catch the bad guys, have at it.”

There was a gender gap in the poll, with men were more concerned about a loss of privacy if police start using drones than women — 40 percent to 30 percent. There was an even wider gap between white and black respondents, with 48 percent of blacks strongly concerned about a loss of privacy compared to 32 percent of whites.

But the poll found no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.

Protecting privacy has long been an issue that resonates on both the political left and the right, said Jay Stanley, an American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst. He pointed to several bills that were introduced this year in Congress by Democratic and Republican lawmakers to prevent drones from being used in a manner that jeopardizes privacy.

“The awareness of drones and their privacy implications has really reached the American public,” Stanley said. “This is a technology that people weren’t thinking about at all or hadn’t heard much about at all just a couple of years ago.”

Responding to public concern, a drone industry trade group and the International Association of Police Chiefs have separately released voluntary guidelines for drone use in recent months.

“A lot of the public doesn’t understand how the technology is being used,” said Gretchen West, vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “Law enforcement use (drones) to do the same thing they’ve used manned aircraft for years, it’s just that (drones) are more affordable and usually a more efficient option.”

The National Constitution Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that operates a Philadelphia museum and other educational programs about the Constitution.

The AP-NCC Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Aug. 16-20, using landline and cellphone interviews with 1,006 randomly chosen adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius on contributed to this report.

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Follow Joan Lowy at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy

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Online:

Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

National Constitution Center: http://constitutioncenter.org/

 

 

   How the poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-National Constitution Center Poll on privacy and drones was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Aug. 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,006 adults. Interviews were conducted with 604 respondents on landline telephones and 402 on cellular phones.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.9 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com.

Topline results available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

AP-GfK Poll: Crunch time again for health insurance sign-ups

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama’s push to cover America’s uninsured faces another big test Monday.

 

This time, it’s not only how the website functions, but how well the program itself works for millions who are starting to count on it.

 

Midnight Monday, Pacific time is the deadline for new customers to pick a health plan that will take effect Jan. 1, and for current enrollees to make changes that could reduce premium increases ahead of the new year.

 

HealthCare.gov and state insurance websites are preparing for heavy online traffic before the deadline, which gives consumers in the East three hours into Tuesday to enroll.

 

Wait times at the federal call center started creeping up around the middle of last week, mainly due to a surge of current customers with questions about their coverage for next year. Many will face higher premiums, although they could ease the hit by shopping online for a better deal. Counselors reported hold times of 20 minutes or longer for the telephone help line.

 

About 6.7 million people now have coverage through Obama’s signature law, which offers subsidized private insurance. The administration wants to increase that to 9.1 million in 2015. To do that, the program will have to keep most of its current enrollees while signing up more than 2 million new paying customers.

 

People no longer can be turned down because of health problems, but picking insurance still is daunting for many consumers. They also have to navigate the process of applying for or updating federal subsidies, which can be complex for certain people, including immigrants. Many returning customers are contending with premium increases generally in the mid-to-high single digits, but much more in some cases.

 

Consumers “understand it’s complicated but they appreciate the ability to get health insurance,” said Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that is helping sign up low-income residents. “People who haven’t gone through the process don’t understand how complicated it is.”

 

Last year’s open enrollment season turned into a race to salvage the reputation of the White House by fixing numerous technical bugs that crippled HealthCare.gov from its first day. With the website now working fairly well, sign-up season this year is a test of whether the program itself is practical for the people it is intended to serve.

 

New wrinkles have kept popping up, even with seemingly simple features of the Affordable Care Act.

 

For example, most current customers who do nothing will be automatically renewed Jan. 1 in the plan they now are in. At this point, it looks like that is what a majority intends to do.

 

While that may sound straightforward, it’s not.

 

By staying in their current plans, people can get locked into a premium increase and miss out on lower-priced plans for 2015. Not only that, they also will keep their 2014 subsidies, which may be less than what they legally would be entitled to for next year.

 

Doing nothing appears to be a particularly bad idea for people who turned 21 this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that advocates for low-income people.

 

Researchers at the center estimate that 21-year-olds will see a 58 percent increase in the sticker price for their premiums just because they’re a year older. An age-adjustment factor used to compute premiums jumps substantially when a person turns 21. A 20-year-old whose premium was $130 per month in 2014 will see the premium climb to $205 a month in 2015, solely because of that year’s difference.

 

Tax-credit subsidies can cancel out much or even all of the impact. But if consumers default to automatic renewal, their tax credits will not be updated and they will get the same subsidy as this year.

 

“Even in the best possible scenario of how many people we can expect to come in, we will still see a substantial number of people defaulting,” said Judy Solomon, a health care policy expert at the center. She worries that some young adults may get discouraged and drop out.

 

Reviews of HealthCare.gov and state health insurance exchanges are mixed.

 

An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found that 11 percent of Americans said they or someone else in their household tried to sign up since open enrollment began Nov. 15. Overall, 9 percent said the insurance markets are working extremely well or very well. Twenty-six percent said the exchanges are working somewhat well, and 39 percent said they were not working well. The remaining 24 percent said they didn’t know enough to rate performance.

 

So far it has been a frustrating experience for Marie Bagot, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She and her husband are in their 60s, but not yet old enough for Medicare. The husband, who works as a chef, will turn 65 around the middle of next year and qualify for Medicare. Bagot said they were happy with their insurance this year under Obama’s law.

 

“As you get older, you worry about your health,” she said. “I was very pleased with the price we got.”

 

But Bagot said she received a notice from her insurer that her current plan will not be available next year in her community. The closest alternative would involve a premium increase of more than $350 a month, even with their tax credit subsidy. After days of trying to find a comparable plan through the federal call center and after visiting a counselor, Bagot said she opted to keep their current coverage, while hoping costs go down after her husband joins Medicare.

 

“I cannot afford it, but I’m going to try to,” she said.

 

Monday is not the last chance for consumers like Bagot. Open enrollment doesn’t end until Feb. 15.

 

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

 


AP-GfK Poll: Nearly 9 in 10 doubt Obama, GOP can break gridlock

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans may not agree on much lately, but one opinion is nearly universal: There’s almost no chance that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican Congress can work together to solve the country’s problems.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds just 13 percent of Americans are confident the leaders, separated by nearly 2 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue, can work together, while 86 percent have no such faith. That’s far more than the 58 percent who felt that way just after the 2010 midterm elections in which the tea party movement rose to prominence.

The doubts cross party lines: Fewer than 1 in 5 Democrats or independents have confidence the two sides can cooperate. Republicans are even more pessimistic, with just 1 in 10 confident Obama and Congress can work together.

Those who lack confidence spread the blame around: 41 percent say neither side would do enough to work together, 35 percent place more blame on the Republicans, 22 percent on the president.

Neither side holds much hope things are going to get better, either. Just 16 percent think the president is likely to restore public trust in government in the next two years, while 20 percent feel congressional Republicans will.

Robert Cole, 65, says both Democrats and Republicans deserve blame for Washington’s stalemate: “If you want to place the blame, it rests on the American voter.”

“They’re not doing their jobs, and we as the electorate are stupid in sending the same people back and expecting things to change,” said Cole, a retiree who lives in Ocala, Florida.

But not everyone sees cooperation as a positive.

“In my view, the Republicans were doing what they needed to do to block a harmful agenda coming from the executive branch,” said Ron Tykoski, 42, a paleontologist from Nevada, Texas.

What does the public think they’ll be able to do?

A majority say Obama is likely to prevent Congress from repealing the health care law passed in 2010, while nearly half say the GOP is likely to block Obama’s executive order on immigration. Another 42 percent think the GOP will block or roll back Obama’s environmental regulations. Fewer think either side will be able to enact the policies on their agenda.

Tamara Watson, 35, a high school teacher in West Columbia, South Carolina, said immigration and health care are the two issues where both sides do need to work together. She sees Republicans as the bigger roadblock.

“They have fought him his entire term and a half now, and there’s so many of them now,” she said. “It’s going to be very difficult for (Obama) to work with them when there are so many of them versus so few of his party.”

Political gridlock itself ranks pretty low on the issue scale, 47 percent call it extremely or very important compared with 83 percent who say the economy is important, 76 percent who consider health care a key issue and 64 percent who say unemployment is important.

But the issue prompts Obama’s most negative ratings overall: 66 percent disapprove of his handling of gridlock and among Democrats, 47 percent disapprove.

Approval ratings for the president and Congress are about the same as before the election, with 41 percent approval for Obama and 15 percent Congress. In general, however, the public expresses greater frustration with politics now than they did four years ago.

Looking back on last month’s elections, 52 percent say they’re disappointed with the results while 50 percent say they’re frustrated. Both figures are up significantly since 2010. About a quarter, 27 percent, say they’re angry, compared with 16 percent in 2010.

Just 37 percent say they’re hopeful when they think about the results of the elections, well below the 65 percent saying so after the 2010 elections, when the GOP took control of the House of Representatives, or the 74 percent who felt so when Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. Only 1 in 5 Americans under age 30 describe themselves as hopeful, fewer than any other age group.

More Americans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government than said they trust either side over the other. Nearly a third of both Democrats and Republicans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government, along with almost 6 in 10 independents.

But Cole says this hasn’t turned him away from politics.

“As aggravating as it is, I’m still paying attention just to see if I can find somebody out there who is going to do more than talk about cooperating and find a way forward,” he said.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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On Twitter, follow Jennifer Agiesta at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta and Emily Swanson at http://www.twitter.com/el_swan .

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com