U.S. expands domestic spying program at borders

U.S. spy technology is expected to help law enforcement and immigration officials keep a closer watch on U.S. borders.

Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, gave the Department of Homeland Security expanded authority to use spy satellites to monitor images on borders within the United States, officials tell CNN.

There are certain details these satellites cannot pick up, such as close-up images of someone's face. Verbal communication will not be picked up, officials said.

Charles Allen, chief intelligence officer with the Department of Homeland Security, said the move will also help with security during natural disasters. Spy satellites were used for Hurricane Katrina efforts and have monitored the World Series, presidential inaugurals and the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. They mapped out damage at the World Trade Center, too.

"This is a development all Americans should have great pride in, because it expands and uses the national technical systems that we've built for tens of billions of dollars over many decades," Allen said.

"Now we're going to use it to help us protect the homeland and also help the homeland respond and recover in case of hurricanes, earthquakes, natural disasters or man-made attacks upon the United States." Watch how officials plan to use satellites and critics' concerns »

But civil rights advocates and others are concerned there is little unbiased oversight to a system they say is tantamount to domestic spying. The Pentagon and CIA are not allowed to spy on U.S. residents.

"The government can wire-tap phone calls, the government can use infrared technology, the government can use X-ray and other devices," said James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

"The question always comes down to, what are the standards, are there checks and balances?"

McConnell and the Senate Intelligence Committee, which oversees all of the Department of Homeland Security's operations, will monitor the satellite program.

In a May letter, McConnell gave Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff the authority to determine some of the priorities for the satellites, officials said.

The first phase, starting October 1, will involve such missions as trying to detect illegal movement.

Because there are complicated issues regarding laws and civil liberties, the satellites will not be used for law enforcement purposes until next year, an official said.

(Published by CNN, August 16, 2007)


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