Senior House Democrats called on the Bush administration yesterday to delay a planned Oct. 1 expansion of the use of powerful satellite and aircraft spy technology by local and federal law enforcement agencies, challenging the plan's legality and charging that the administration is failing to safeguard the privacy of Americans.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and two Democratic subcommittee chairmen jointly asked the Department of Homeland Security to provide the legal framework for the domestic use of classified and military spy satellites, and to allow Congress to review privacy and civil liberties protections.
"You let this thing go, it may be another blank check to the executive. It may morph into things that will terrify you if you really understand the capabilities of satellites," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), former ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
Their demand was made in a letter after DHS officials testified about the spying program at a hearing, and signaled that administration officials had not succeeded in quieting Democrats' concerns about the intrusiveness of the satellite technology -- which was created primarily for foreign surveillance -- and the novelty of its proposed use by state and local police officials.