The American government’s penchance for secrecy above all continues unabated. Defense Tech news reports that a bill has now passed, which puts all remote sensing data into the hands solely of the U.S. Government and its allies, where allies is defined in the law itself. So, the data is not classified and it is not necessarily related to national security, but all private contractors who have this data will be forced to sign an exclusive agreement with the U.S. government.

I would say this is unbelievable but that’s the sad part. It isn’t. This quote is from the Federation of American Scientists’ website:

PROPOSED FOIA EXEMPTION FOR SAT IMAGERY THREATENS ACCESS

 A proposed Freedom of Information Act exemption for commercial satellite imagery would severely restrict public access to a broad swath of unclassified government information.

 The proposed exemption, already approved in the Senate, awaits consideration this month in a House-Senate conference committee.

 The text of the measure, entitled “Nondisclosure of Certain Products of Commercial Satellite Operations,” is here:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2004/s2400-imagery.html

 Almost every clause of the proposed exemption embodies patent hostility to the conventions of open government and public access to government information.

 Thus, the exemption would apply not only to commercial satellite images acquired by the government, but would also broadly exclude “any… other product that is derived from such data.”

 This means that maps, reports, and any other unclassified government analyses or communications that are in some way “derived from” a commercial satellite image would all of a sudden become inaccessible through FOIA.

 Not only that, but “any State or local law relating to the disclosure of information or records” would be preempted and nullified when it comes to imagery or imagery-derived information.

 And more: the provision would not merely “exempt” all of this information, but would positively “prohibit” its disclosure. Government officials would be barred from releasing it under FOIA even if they wanted to.

 “The use of remote sensing imagery has become a routine and important part of newsgathering, facilitating more compelling news coverage,” wrote Barbara Cochran of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), an advocate for news media use of commercial satellite imagery, in a letter to Congress last week.

 “The usefulness of such imagery in covering wars, refugees, disasters, genocides, illicit weapons, etc. is readily apparent.”

 But the proposed FOIA exemption would threaten this function, she argued.

 “In essence, this new FOIA exemption would result in taxpayer dollars being used to preclude the media from adequately informing the public about matters of critical importance that in no way implicate the national security.”

 “For example, imagery of genocide or disaster sites, which the government may have obtained, may be denied to journalists investigating how the government responded to these calamities.”

 “Congress should not undermine the public’s interest in knowing what its government is up to in its quest to protect the nation,” she urged.

Links:
Relevant law text
Barbara Cochran’s letter to the House Armed Services Committee
Federation of American Scientists website