You’re On Candid Camera: The Bush administration now wants to watch you from the
You’re On Candid Camera
The Bush administration now wants to watch you from the sky.
A Bush administration program to expand domestic use of Pentagon spy satellites has aroused new concerns in Congress about possible civil-liberties abuses.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment denying money for the new domestic intelligence operation—cryptically named the "National Applications Office"—until the Homeland Security secretary certifies that any programs undertaken by the center will "comply with all existing laws, including all applicable privacy and civil liberties standards."
Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on intelligence, told Newsweek that majorities in both the House and Senate intend to block all funding for the domestic intelligence center at least until August, when the Government Accountability Office, an investigative agency that works for Congress, completes a report examining civil-liberties and privacy issues related to the domestic use of picture-taking spy satellites.
Harman, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee when Republicans controlled Congress earlier in Bush’s tenure, said she still felt burned by the president’s secret expansion of domestic electronic spying after 9/11. At the time, she and other intel committee leaders were assured that the increased intelligence activity was legal, only to learn later that the basis for the new surveillance was a set of opinions by administration lawyers that are now widely considered to be legally questionable.
Because of the administration’s poor handling of the electronic spying program (mainly conducted by the super-secret National Security Agency, which operates a worldwide web of electronic eavesdropping systems), Harman says she and other members of Congress will be more cautious about accepting civil-liberties assurances from administration officials. "We have to make sure this is not a back door for spying on Americans," Harman told Newsweek.
Harman said that she had discussed the administration’s plans for expanding domestic use of picture-taking spy satellites—which are supposedly capable of taking very high-resolution photographs of buildings, vehicles and people—with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. According to Harman, he promised strict procedures to protect the rights of Americans, including obtaining court authorization for law enforcement-related surveillance operations where appropriate. Despite Chertoff’s assurances, however, Harman said that Congress probably would not fully approve the program until the administration is more explicit about how it would operate.