Congress to probe domestic spy satellite use
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday August 28, 2007

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The Department of Homeland Security's top intelligence, privacy and civil rights officials will be called before Congress next week to explain the Bush administration's plan to dramatically expand the domestic use to spy satellites that can see through clouds, buildings and underground bunkers.

The House Homeland Security Committee will examine whether privacy rights will be violated by the DHS's creation of a new office to grant expanded access to spy satellite data to a variety of local and federal agencies, including law enforcement.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff earlier this month inquiring about the spy program.

Under a program approved by the DHS and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, detailed imagery from powerful satellites will be available to domestic security and emergency preparedness agencies to deal with threats ranging from immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires, the Washington Post reported.

Access to the data will be controlled by a newly created office within DHS, the National Applications Office.

In his letter, Thompson said Congress was not informed of the new program until its existence was revealed in media reports a few weeks ago. The office is expected to begin granting expanded access to the spy-sattelite data Oct. 1; images from the spy satellites were previously limited to domestic use for environmental and geographic purposes, such as creating topographical maps or monitoring volcano activity.

At a hearing next Thursday, Sept. 6, Homeland Security Committee members will question DHS's chief intelligence officer Charles Allen, chief privacy officer Hugo Teufel and civil liberties officer Dan Sutherland.

"I need you to provide me with an immediate assurance that upon its October 1st roll out, this program will be operating within the confines of the Constitution and all applicable laws and regulations," Thompson wrote to Chertoff.