FAA Restricts Drones Flying Over Pipeline Protests
From the Drone Law Journal November 27, 2016
The FAA has imposed a 4-nautical mile Temporary Flight Restriction, (“TFR”), in airspace up to 3500 feet above sea level, over the Standing Rock Protest in North Dakota. The land in that area sits approximately 1600 feet above sea level, meaning about 1900 feet of the sky above the protest is off limits to any aircraft other than those permitted to fly — namely, aircraft in support of the law enforcement activities.
Neither the mainstream media, nor citizen journalists, nor activist hobbyists may fly in that area to document what law enforcement is doing.
This action will prevent the media or activists from showing shocking footage of water cannons used to spray protesters.
Forbes contributor John Goglia has pointed out that "keeping the media from documenting law enforcement actions is not part of the FAA’s mission. Nor is it a legal basis for issuing flight restrictions." Yet that is exactly what they did in Ferguson and it appears they are doing the same here.
I reached out to the FAA for more specific information on why the TFR was issued, including whether it was issued because of the reports of drones being shot down. I also requested information on whether drone journalists could get permission to fly through the TFR and, if so, how. Lastly, I asked what the FAA was doing to investigate and prosecute the 8 or more instances of drones being shot down as the agency confirmed to me several months ago that shooting down drones was a felony.
Here was their response to the first two questions:
The Federal Aviation Administration carefully considers requests from law enforcement and other entities before establishing Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) in U.S. airspace. The TFR currently over the pipeline protest was approved to ensure the safety of aircraft in support of law enforcement and the safety of people on the ground.
The TFR includes provisions for media to operate aircraft – both traditional and unmanned – inside the TFR, provided that operators comply with the language of the Notice to Airmen. In the case of unmanned aircraft, operators must also comply with the requirements of Part 107 and coordinate beforehand with the FAA. We’ve had no requests from media who meet those requirements.
The first answer doesn't really address the question. The FAA is saying "We were told it was unsafe by law enforcement and other entities, we believed them."
Law enforcement has learned from the Ferguson flight restrictions to not say their intentions out loud. Now when they want to block the media drones they say it's about safety, not limiting access, "We are worried all those drones will fall out of the sky and hurt the people on the ground. Drones might fly up and hit the law enforcement aircraft that are in the restricted zone."
The second answer is very important. It's saying the media CAN operate in the restricted flight zone, but they have to show they have certified training (Part 107) and they have to coordinate with the FAA.
What is Part 107? It's a long list of requirements a remote operator must have. It's fairly new (August 29, 2016) and it was put into place partly because of jackholes who were flying their drones around during emergencies getting in the way of fire fighters.
I don't know how hard it is to get this certificate or if any of the media in place have them. But because the FAA says that no one has asked yet, that means ALL DRONES flying during the TFR are flying illegally.
If someone is not certified, but they operate anyway, they would be subject to "all applicable federal criminal and civil penalties." BTW, it's $1,100 for each incident.
Here's the deal, law enforcement can't arrest people for taking a photo, but they can arrest them for taking the photo from a drone in the TFR.
Law enforcement now has a new federal law to use to arrest people who break it.
Here is the FAA's answer to drones being shot down:
Although the FAA is aware of anecdotal reports of drones being shot down, the agency has received only one official report. On Oct. 23, a drone was shot down with bean bags after allegedly being flown in a threatening manner near a law enforcement helicopter. That incident is still under investigation.
The agency also is investigating several incidents in which protestors have allegedly flown their drones in violation of the provisions of the TFR.
This is the ol' "It was coming right at me!" trick used to justify shootings. Now, because there are no certified remote media drone operators, all drones seen are violating the FAA flight restrictions. This language will also be used to justify police shooting down drones.
I've included a video above of one of the drones being shot at. This happened in October, before the TFR, but after the August 2016 rules were passed. I don't know the background of the operator they might have a certificate. In which case they should file a complaint with the FAA about the police shooting at the drone.
The FAA mentions they have only seen one official report. Who filed it?
When the FAA says, "official reports" that usually means from law enforcement, and we know who usually wins in these cases. The good news is that at least in the case of the drone video, there is proof of the incident.
Passing laws that limit the media or just a media tool?
If we step back from this FAA announcement, I can see ways around it using a different tool, "Want a shot from a height? Put a GoPro on a helium balloon. It's not an aircraft. Don't have any helium? Attach a camera to a kite. No wind? Get a really long selfie stick." But that's my inner MacGyver talking
This is an important issue because of its use of the government, the FAA, to restrict the media's use of a new tool. They are doing it using an accepted method to make it stick--safety.
When officials lie about what is "safe" when using drones in order to restrict the media, they need to be called on it. We know from the Ferguson transcript officials asked for the TFR just to block the media, they didn't care about safety.
The other issue to bring up is the use of a certification and permission. One of the ways that the media is contained by government is the issue of credentials, or "press passes." Making sure the media has drone certification allows the government to keep an eye on them. It's not embedding, but it does allows the government some control over those given special access.
With all this talk about drones and regulations I don't want to miss the point of WHY it is so important for people to see what is happening. If the media can't do it, then we need to. The idea is that when people see what is happening they will be outraged and demand it stop.
While reading about the Birmingham campaign I was curious about who issued the orders to turn the hoses on children and bystanders. I was also wondered who had the authority to tell them to stop.
Obama is still the President. He has the video of what is happening. He has the authority to tell the locals to stop turning high-pressure water hoses on people. Why hasn't he?