On November 17, 2015 the National Press Photographers Association (“NPPA”), joined by 10 other organizations submitted supplemental comments to the FAA regarding the unintended consequences of drone registration. The groups are concerned that a registration process requiring all drone operators to carry a certificate of registration with them, and produce it on demand to a federal, state or local police official, will be used by police and prosecutors in a pretextual way to chill free speech and freedom of the press. Journalists often encounter this type of interference. Police officers who do not like news coverage of an event often use vague charges like failing to obey a lawful order or interference with officers at an emergency scene to stop journalists.
The stated purpose of a registration and marking requirement is the safe integration of drones into the national airspace. The FAA has asserted one of the ways to insure that is to have a means to identify and track the drone to its operator. The groups believe that requiring a drone operator to produce papers on demand will not aid in drone safety.
Writing for the group, NPPA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher, expressed the concern “with these unanticipated and unintended consequences which illustrate how government, and particularly law enforcement, can use discretionary laws to suppress speech activities in ways that were not considered at the time of their enactment. To pass constitutional muster and forestall constitutional conflicts between journalists and law enforcement officers, any registration system, must contain provisions that preclude officers from demanding to see journalists’ registration papers, and to then detaining, fining, or seizing property from journalists who are not carrying such documentation with them.”
The American Society of Media Photographers, American Society of News Editors, Associated Press Media Editors, Associated Press Photo Managers, The McClatchy Company, North Jersey Media Group, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Student Press Law Center joined in the filing.
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