Domestic spy satellite program on hold ... for now
The Department of Homeland Security is not implementing a plan to dramatically widen law enforcement agencies' access to spy satellite data as intended Monday after lawmakers raised privacy concerns and called for cuts to the agency's funding.
Despite the temporary roadblock from Congress, DHS officials say they still plan to pursue the program and are confident they can placate civil liberties concerns raised by Democratic lawmakers, the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog reports.
DHS planned Monday to launch the National Applications Office, which would coordinate access to spy satellite images for domestic non-military agencies, including law enforcement. Officials in the department are predicting "the new office will be open for business in the coming weeks," Robert Block reported at Washington Wire.
After Block revealed DHS's plan to expand access to the satellite data, the House Homeland Security Committee objected, saying the planned program raised too many concerns over privacy and civil liberties to be implemented as scheduled on Oct. 1.
Rep. Jane Harman, who chairs an intelligence and information sharing subcommittee, compared the DHS push to the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program which remained a secret for years after it was implemented in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"Since we've been rolled, I intend not to get rolled again," Harman (D-CA) told the Washington Post last month.
Harman joined Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson and another subcommittee chair in requesting copies of documents outlining the program's legal justifications, the privacy protections included in it and its ability to conform with the Posse Comitatus act, which prevents using the military for domestic law enforcement.
"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 lawmakers wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and another official.
Last week, Democrats on the committee went even further, Washington Wire reports, asking lawmakers to revoke the new office's funding until details about the program are handed over. A committee spokesperson did not immediately return a call from RAW STORY seeking comment.