America is delaying controversial plans to use satellites for spying on itself. It was announced yesterday that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would not open its planned National Applications Office until legislators' concerns were addressed.
The idea of the National Applications Office was that it would allow the use of powerful US surveillance and scientific satellites to support security operations within America itself. Spy satellites in particular normally work at the behest of agencies focused beyond the American borders.
Under DHS plans, however, space intel would be obtainable by law-enforcement, disaster relief and security officials who would not normally have such access. This would perhaps boost border security, policing, counter-terrorism and even emergency management efforts by federal officials.
But Democrats on the congressional oversight committee have viewed the plans with alarm, and have now won a halt to proceedings until the DHS clarifies exactly how the new satellite-surveillance office will work, for whom and what procedures it will follow.
DHS Chief Intelligence Officer Charles Allen has now reportedly written to the Homeland Security committee chairman, saying that the Department "has no intention to begin operations until we address your questions." Allen said he plans to provide Thompson with "a progress report" this week, followed by a detailed briefing.
"I look forward to working with you and your committee to ensure the National Applications Office enhances support to homeland security, protects US privacy and civil liberties, and is consistent with the Constitution and all applicable laws and regulations," the letter said.
The US already has procedures for using spy satellites against locations within its own borders. An existing body, the Civil Applications Committee, handles such matters at the moment. According to the DHS, the proposed new office would offer better and easier access balanced by more layers of oversight.
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