Controverisal Satellite Spying Program Set to Begin

By Laura Spadanuta

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is proceeding with a satellite surveillance program that has generated controversy because it has not ensured that it can comply with privacy laws.

The program is known as the National Applications Office, and it is designed to provide access to spy satellite imagery to federal, state, and local officials "to assist with emergency response and other domestic-security needs, such as identifying where ports or border areas are vulnerable to terrorism."

Democratic lawmakers have spoken out against the program due to privacy concerns.  The article cites a GAO report that has not been publicly released as stating that the program lacks adequate privacy protections.

The report cites gaps in privacy safeguards. The department, it found, lacks controls to prevent improper use of domestic-intelligence data by other agencies and provided insufficient assurance that requests for classified information will be fully reviewed to ensure it can be legally provided.

Homeland security officials responded that the program is legal and that the GAO is seeking a "level of proof" that cannot be provided until after the program is enacted.

The article states that House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) has called for a freeze on the program until after the election so that the new administration can review it.  However, Congress approved a bill, which President Bush signed into law, that allows DHS to "launch a a limited version, focused only on emergency response and scientific needs. The department must meet additional requirements before it can expand operations to include homeland-security and law-enforcement surveillance."


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