DHS finalizing plans for domestic spy satellite program
Congress has not been updated since civil liberties concerns delayed satellite spying
A plan to dramatically widen US law enforcement agencies’ access to data from powerful spy satellites is moving toward implementation, as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff expects to finalize a charter for the program this week, according to a new report.
Chertoff insists the scheme to turn spy satellites — that were originally designed for foreign surveillance — on Americans is legal, although a House committee that would approve the program has not been updated on the program for three months.
“We still haven’t seen the legal framework we requested or the standard operation procedures on how the NAO will actually be run,” House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson tells the Wall Street Journal. Thompson was referring to the National Applications Office — a new DHS subset that would coordinate access to spy-satellite data for non-military domestic agencies, including law enforcement.
Civil liberties concerns delayed the program after lawmakers and outside activists wondered how the program would be structured to protect Americans from unconstitutional surveillance from the powerful satellites, which can see through cloud cover, trees and even concrete buildings.
The program’s charter remains unfinalized, but Chertoff said it will use clear language to explain legal restrictions on the data’s use. Warrants will be obtained when required before collecting satellite intelligence, and the program won’t use technology to intercept verbal communications, according to the Journal.
“One lesson I’ve learned is it’s not enough to say we know what we’re doing is going to be OK,” Chertoff told the paper in an interview. “We’ve got to really make it clear to the public that we’re doing this, but we’re not doing that.”