Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Homeland Security officials are expected Tuesday to announce the elimination of an intelligence satellite monitoring system that has been approved for domestic terrorism surveillance and has been criticized by law enforcement officials who say it tramples civil liberties.

The National Applications Office was created by the department in 2007 to take over mapping responsibilities in natural disasters, and the Homeland Security Department under President George W. Bush expanded the technology’s use for the prevention and response to a terrorist attack.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reached the decision after discussions with law enforcement officials, the Associated Press reported late Monday night.

According to a June 21 letter to Ms. Napolitano from a national police organization obtained by The Washington Times, the office is “not an issue of urgency” to law enforcement.

“Our goal is effective sharing of law enforcement information that protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans and we are thus committed to a national framework of privacy and civil liberty protections,” said the letter from the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Instead, the association urged Ms. Napolitano to focus the department on information-sharing with state and local agencies.

In a statement released Tuesday, Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said, “We expect to announce the results of that review shortly.”

“Secretary Napolitano began a review of the NAO early in her tenure, during which time the department engaged directly for the first time with our state and local intelligence partners on this issue,” Ms. Kudwa said.

Historically, the technology was used to map natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, to assist agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, an independent study appointed by the director of national intelligence recommended that the office’s scope be expanded beyond civil uses to include homeland security and law enforcement.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, introduced legislation to prevent the department from using satellite imagery for law enforcement purposes by blocking future funding.

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