New surveillance program will turn military satellites on US
By Julian Sanchez | Published: October 05, 2008 - 07:15PM CT
An appropriations bill signed by President Bush last week allows the controversial National Applications Office to begin operating a stringently limited version of a program that would turn military spy satellites on the US, sharing imagery with other federal, state, and local government agencies. The government's own watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, has warned in an unpublished report that the more expansive program in the offing lacks adequate safeguards to protect privacy and civil liberties.
For now, the law restricts the NAO to "activities substantially similar" to those carried out by the Civil Applications Committee, an interagency coordinating body formed in 1976 to give civilian agencies access to military satellites for scientific and disaster preparedness purposes, such as "monitoring volcanic activity, environmental and geological changes, hurricanes, and floods." But as a draft charter for the Office makes clear, officials at the Department of Homeland Security hope to branch out from these traditional applications, providing assistance and information to domestic law enforcement agencies.
That doesn't sit well with some members of Congess, who in a sharply worded letter earlier this year expressed concerns that the NAO "raises major issues under the Posse Comitatus Act" barring the military from performing law enforcement duties, and worried the program could be used to "gather domestic intelligence outside the rigorous protections of the law—and, ultimately, to share this intelligence with local law enforcement outside of constitutional parameters."