ACLU Testifies on Spy Satellites, Calls for Moratorium on Domestic Use

September 6, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@dcaclu org

WASHINGTON, DC – Today in testimony before Congress the American Civil Liberties Union said the government must institute a moratorium on the domestic use of military spy satellites until Congress receives answers to the key questions about the program, enacts statutory checks and balances to prevent their misuse, and explicitly authorizes the program. 

“Congress needs to act before this potentially powerful surveillance tool is turned inward upon the American people,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, who testified today before the House Committee on Homeland Security.  “The domestic use of spy satellites represents a potential monster in the making, and we need to put some restraints in place before it grows into something that will trample Americans’ privacy rights.”  

The Homeland Security Committee hearing was called after it was reported by the Wall Street Journal on August 15 that the government is planning to give domestic security and law enforcement officials access to spy satellites surveillance.  Access to the satellites would be controlled by a new arm of DHS, the National Applications Office.  

“The striking thing about our spy satellites is just how much we do not know about them,” said Steinhardt in his written testimony.  “And it’s difficult to draw conclusions about the domestic use of spy satellites when we don’t know what they’re capable of.” 

Steinhardt called upon Congress to get answers to the question of just what today’s satellites can do, as well as other key questions, including:

      • What the satellites’ capabilities are likely to be in the future

      • Exactly how our security establishment envisions using the satellites

      • What DHS has done to ensure the program won’t violate privacy

      • Whether DHS has conducted an assessment of the program’s legality

      • Why DHS cannot turn to commercial satellite providers  

      “Congress must set up genuine checks and balances that will give Americans confidence that the satellite technology of today – and tomorrow – won’t be used in unacceptable ways,” said Steinhardt.

      “In many ways spy satellites are just a test case for Congress,” he added.  “We are seeing many new technologies these days that have an ominous potential to invade our privacy in insidious ways.  If we do nothing, our privacy will dissolve.  Congress needs to take action to conserve the privacy Americans have always expected and enjoyed.” 

      View Barry Steinhardt's testimony in full.

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