Although Congress is out of session, the news that classified intelligence satellites may increasingly be used for domestic surveillance applications did not go unnoticed by congressional overseers.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chair of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, sent a letter (pdf) to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff seeking answers to a series of detailed questions about the new initiative, which was first reported in the Wall Street Journal. Among Rep. Markey’s questions were these:
- Will the public have an opportunity to comment on the development of appropriate guidelines for domestic use of spy satellites?
- What assessments of the legality of the new surveillance program have been performed?
- How does the Department plan to ensure that Americans’ privacy and civil rights are protected once this new surveillance program becomes operational?
A copy of Mr. Markey’s August 16 letter is here. A response was requested no later than September 7.
The new surveillance program “has drawn sharp criticism from civil liberties advocates who say the government is overstepping the use of military technology for domestic surveillance,” wrote Eric Schmitt in the New York Times. See “Liberties Advocates Fear Abuse of Satellite Images,” August 17.
Update: Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, scolded the Department of Homeland Security in an August 22 letter (pdf) for failing to properly brief his Committee on the new surveillance program and for not taking account of civil liberties concerns in the development of the program. Rep. Thompson’s letter was first reported by Bobby Block in the Wall Street Journal August 23.