Until now, only a handful of federal civilian agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, have had access to the most basic spy-satellite imagery, and only for the purpose of scientific and environmental study.
But, in the eternal name of fighting terrorism, all that is about to change.
Sometime next year, officials will examine how the satellites can aid federal and local law-enforcement agencies, covering both criminal and civil law. The department is still working on determining how it will engage law enforcement officials and what kind of support it will give them.
In other words, our government will be using yet another tool that abridges our right to privacy, granted under the aegis of national security for fighting terror, for the use in prosecution of ordinary crime in a manner that is all but certain to catch innocent Americans in its web of surveillance. Is this even legal, you ask?
Unlike electronic eavesdropping, which is subject to legislative and some judicial control, this use of spy satellites is largely uncharted territory. Although the courts have permitted warrantless aerial searches of private property by law-enforcement aircraft, there are no cases involving the use of satellite technology.
If our unitary executive is in charge of deciding, the answer would probably be, no it's not and indeed, even those who designed the program are not sure. There's no case law one way or the other.
The only thing certain is these military satellites are extraordinarly powerful, literally able to see through walls and their full capabilities are, (here's the big surprise), completely secret from everyone but a handful of intelligence agents. As for oversight of possible abuse of the system -- surely you jest.
Brings a whole new meaning to Big Brother is watching.