The Department of Homeland Security has not adequately addressed the civil liberties concerns associated with the new National Applications Office (NAO) that would promote the use of intelligence capabilities such as overhead surveillance for homeland security and other domestic purposes, three Democratic Congressmen said this week.
“Turning America’s spy satellites on the homeland for domestic law enforcement purposes is no trivial matter,” wrote Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, along with Rep. Jane Harman and Rep. Christopher P. Carney.
“Although we support any Department effort to engage in more effective and responsive information sharing with our nation’s first preventers, the serious privacy and civil liberties issues that the NAO raises are manifold and multifaceted,” they wrote in an April 7 letter (pdf) to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
“Job number one needs to be the completion of a detailed legal framework and SOPs applicable to all NAO domains…. Only after we have had an opportunity to review these documents and to bring the privacy and civil liberties community into the process should NAO commence hiring and other development efforts.”
“Should you proceed with the NAO without addressing our concerns, we will take appropriate steps to discontinue it,” they told DHS.
The National Applications Office was formally established as “an advocate for IC [intelligence community] capabilities to serve, among others, non-traditional users in the civil, homeland security, and law enforcement communities.” See the February 2008 charter of the National Applications Office (pdf).
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the Department of Homeland Security will provide additional documentation to the House Homeland Security Committee in response to its concerns. See “Privacy Fears Threaten Satellite Program” by Siobhan Gorman, April 8.