FAA Helps Police Suppress Reporting From Dakota Pipeline Protests
The politicisation of air regulation, not for public safety.
The FAA claims that the TFRs included special provisions for media to operate aircraft within the no-fly zones. But the actual text of the TFRs did not tell reporters how to seek an exemption. And the FAA initially refused all such requests—telling one indigenous videographer that its hands were tied—until it finally granted one non-local, non-indigenous photographer a short exemption from the most recent ban.
By instituting these broad no-fly zones above hotly-contested law enforcement operations, the FAA has been complicit in denying the public’s right to gather and access information about a matter of immense public debate and concern—much as it was complicit when it decided to institute a no-fly zone over Ferguson in 2014. And by failing to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe before instating the bans, the FAA has also contravened the obligation federal agencies have to consult with a sovereign tribe before taking any action that directly affects the tribe. These failures are troubling. But these failures also give the FAA an opportunity to demonstrate that it recognizes and respects the rights of protestors, reporters, and indigenous people.
To that end, the ACLU, the ACLU of North Dakota, and the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression sent the FAA a letter on Friday requesting that it change its approach to TFRs. Specifically, we asked that the FAA ensure that “no-fly zones are not physically larger or longer in duration than strictly necessary to preserve public safety”; that “flight variances are available and granted to media entities whenever consistent with public safety”; that “any no-fly zones are based on supported facts that justify such an extreme measure”; and that the FAA consult the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe before instituting any future TFR.