Congressman inquires if it's legal to use spy satellites on Americans
Jason Rhyne
Published: Wednesday August 22, 2007

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A Democratic congressman is seeking answers after revelations that the US plans to use spy satellites against American citizens.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), who chairs a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, has written Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to ask a series of detailed questions about the new spying initiative. The congressman's letter, which was first reported by Secrecy News, outlines a string of inquiries about the legality of the domestic spying program and seeks assurances that American civil rights will be protected once the program becomes operational.

"Recent media reports of an unprecedented expansion of access to imagery from United States satellites for domestic surveillance purposes raise significant questions about the scope of this new program, its legal basis...the privacy safeguards in place to prevent abuse and related issues," the letter begins.

Markey goes on to ask why current spy satellite protocols, which according to press reports grant U.S security officials access to satellite images on a case-by-case basis, are inadequate. "How many of these requests were denied, if any?" he asks.

"How does the [Department of Homeland Security] plan to ensure Americans' privacy and civil rights are protected once this new program becomes operational?" the congressman continues later in the letter, requesting a copy of materials that explain what "policies and procedures are currently used to guide the use and dissemination of information obtained through the use of spy satellites."

Eyeing the legality of the proposed spy plan, Congressman Markey inquires as to what "memoranda, opinions or analyses have been prepared" to evaluate the new program, and asks specifically if the spying would violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which regulates the use of the U.S. military for non-military purposes.

"If reviews of the program uncover improper usage of the program in a manner that undermines Americans' privacy and civil liberties," Markey asks, "will the Department convey such information to the Congress and the public? If not, why not?"

A copy of the Aug. 16 letter, which requests a response from the Department of Homeland Security no later than Sept. 7, can be found at this PDF link.