Homeland Security Democrats Urge Moratorium on Funding for Expansion of Domestic Satellite Surveillance

Today, Committee on Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment Chair Jane Harman (D-CA), and other Committee Democrats sent a letter to Rep. David E. Price (D-NC), Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security regarding the funding of the Department of Homeland Security's National Applications Office (NAO). See previous coverage from the Gavel of the satellite program, including the initial hearing announcement and background and a letter from Homeland Security Chairman Thompson and others to Secretary Chertoff requesting a moratorium directly three weeks ago.

Read the full letter from today (pdf). An excerpt:

While we believe the NAO may hold significant promise in helping to secure the homeland from future terrorist attacks, we are gravely concerned by the Department’s lack of progress in creating the appropriate legal and operational safeguards necessary for ensuring that military spy satellites do not become the “Big Brother in the Sky” that some in the privacy and civil liberties community have described. Accordingly, the Committee on Homeland Security, like the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, have asked the Department to provide a written legal framework for the NAO and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) under which it will operate in order to allow Members an opportunity to review the plans and suggest changes to ensure that the Constitutional rights of all Americans are protected.

In the last three years, at least four programs — including the $140 million Secure Flight Program; the $100 million Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II (CAPPS II) program; the $42 million Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) program; and the $8 million Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange Pilot Project (MATRIX) — have been either cancelled or suspended by the Department as a result of its failure to adhere to applicable privacy rules and regulations. We appreciate that Democrats on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee played a critical role in bringing to light the vulnerabilities of these programs. Each of these programs, if implemented, would have compromised the privacy rights of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans. We do not want the Department to repeat the same mistakes with this program. Given the gravity of the privacy and civil liberties issues in play with the NAO, we respectfully request that the forthcoming Conference Committee adopt the House position on NAO unless and until the Department has completed its written legal framework and SOP documents and Congress has had an opportunity to review those documents and assess their adequacy.

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