September 6, 2007


Lawmaker Questions Legality of Administration's Satellite Plan (Spencer S. Hsu, September 6, 2007, Washington Post)

The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security today questioned the legal basis of a new Bush administration plan to expand domestic law enforcement agencies' access to powerful satellite and aircraft sensor surveillance technology, contending that the administration has failed to build in adequate privacy safeguards for Americans. [...]

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that, beginning this fall, intelligence officials and DHS will allow broader domestic use of some of the nation's most secret and advanced spying technology, eventually permitting state and local law enforcement officials to tap tools largely restricted to foreign surveillance.

Administration officials say the program can help domestic authorities deal with a range of threats, from illegal immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires, by providing access to high-resolution, real-time satellite photos. Military sensor technology is so sophisticated that it can peer through clouds and tree canopies, penetrate buildings or detect underground bunkers, tracing electromagnetic, heat, radioactive or chemical signatures.

In prepared testimony, DHS chief intelligence officer Charles Allen said that overhead satellite imagery has been used legally for decades to support domestic scientific, federal law enforcement and security uses. It has been employed to create topographic maps, monitor volcanic activity or scout events such as the Super Bowl.

The new program, he said, would relieve the need for local and state agencies to rely on ad hoc means of accessing powerful data tools. dispositive as to whether one can have a reasonable expectation of privacy from such surveillance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 6, 2007 12:06 AM
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