Congress Bestirs Itself on Satellite Monitoring

Congress is worried about satellite spying.

September 6, 2007

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Mr. Charles Allen
Office of Intelligence and Analysis
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Chertoff and Assistant Secretary Allen:

As you know, our Committee held a hearing today on “Turning Spy Satellites on the Homeland.” The Department's new National Applications Office (NAO), charged with overseeing such a program and scheduled to begin operations on October 1, raises very serious privacy and civil liberties concerns.

We are so concerned that, as the Department's authorizing Committee, we are calling for a moratorium on the program until the many Constitutional, legal and organizational questions it raises are answered.

Today's testimony made clear that there is effectively no legal framework governing the domestic use of satellite imagery for the various purposes envisioned by the Department. Without this legal framework, the Department runs the risk of creating a program that – while well-intended – could be misused and violate Americans' Constitutional rights. The Department's failure to include its Privacy Officer and the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Officer before this July, almost two years after planning for the NAO began, only heightens our sense of concern. Privacy and civil liberties simply cannot remain an afterthought at the Department.

We ask that you provide the Committee with the written legal framework under which the NAO will operate, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the NAO – particularly those SOPs that will be used for requests by State, local, and tribal law enforcement, the privacy and civil liberties safeguards that will accompany any use of satellite imagery, and an analysis of how the program conforms with Posse Comitatus.

The use of geospatial information from military intelligence satellites may turn out to be a valuable tool in protecting the homeland. But until the Committee receives those written documents and has had a full opportunity to review them, offer comments, and help shape appropriate procedures and protocols, we cannot and will not support the expanded use of satellite imagery by the NAO.

We appreciate your agreement to provide these materials requested above and look forward to working together to assure the American people that their privacy and civil liberties will be protected.


Bennie G. Thompson

Jane Harman
Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, & Terrorism Risk Assessment

Christopher P. Carney
Subcommittee on Management, Investigations & Oversight

And they have good reasons to be worried.

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6 Responses to Congress Bestirs Itself on Satellite Monitoring

  1. huh says:

    “And they have good reasons to be worried.”

    About what exactly? Given the overwhelming evidence that Islamic terrorists have infiltrated our borders and are planning new attacks (we are *less* vulnerable than Germany?), shouldn’t a relatively unobtrusive surveillance technique be fast-tracked? Once again should we nit-pick the legalities of a common-sense approach to our safety while innocents die?

    Exactly what should we be worried about? That Coral Gables will use the imagery to prosecute landscaping violations? That ivy-league neo-cons will use the imagery to capture the offensive formations of their alma-matter’s rival football team and steal victory of the homecoming game? What are these “good reasons” you claim exist? Other than of course, a knee-jerk reaction to any kind of homeland security?

  2. LACJ says:

    It is interesting that wiretapping goes by the boards while satellite monitoring is brought up. More clearly or instinctively intrusive?

  3. We have done without that kind of surveilance for several hundred years, why rush now?

    Throwing more technology and money at the problem for uncertain effect and without making sure we understand the possible implications is stupid.

    Always make sure your solution is relevant to your percieved problem.

    Thowing random technology at the problem is NOT the answer to social ills.

    Dont give my freedoms up for me, I am not done with them yet.

  4. SEO says:

    Google also poses some concern with their imagry which is improving constantly and is only a few steps behind Military quality. Sure it’s not real time, but you wouldn’t believe the things it’s picked up and with the introduction of Google Street View being snapped through you window walking naked from the bathroom to the bedroom isn’t something the world should see.

    “Fast Tracking” technology like this is rarely a good thing, the laws governing the use of it and the capabilities widen leaving it open to exploitation.


  5. Mojo says:

    What are these “good reasons” you claim exist?
    Among thousands of others:
    – Watching vehicles of political opponents to see who they meet with.
    – Watching vehicles of reporters to see who they meet with.
    – Monitoring peaceful anti-war protestors.
    – Monitoring civil rights advocates.
    – Passing information gathered under auspices of counter-terrorism investigations to civilian law enforcement authorities without evidence of criminal activity.
    Every one of these has been done in the past based on HUMINT or SIGINT. That’s why we have very detailed laws and procedures for using those tools without infringing on the civil rights which make the US worth preserving. (And we used to even abide by those rules.) I’d rather not wait through ten or fifteen years of abuse of this new tool before another Church Commission finally closes the barn door.

  6. LACJ says:


    “Throwing more technology and money at the problem for uncertain effect and without making sure we understand the possible implications is stupid.”

    But the contractors get paid.

    “Always make sure your solution is relevant to your perceived problem.”

    Well, yes but make sure your perceived problem is your real problem.

    “Throwing random technology at the problem is NOT the answer to social ills.”

    See contractors, above. Link in related campaign contributions. Voila!

    “Don’t give my freedoms up for me, I am not done with them yet.”

    Right, exactly.

    But anyway wiretapping is just as invasive, and maybe more so. This could be monitoring through cell phones and network transmissions. And we just gave up the issue a few weeks ago.

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