Senate Intelligence Committee Recommends Relaxing Commercial Satellite Imagery Limits – UPDATE

Senate Intelligence Committee Recommends Relaxing Commercial Satellite Imagery Limits – UPDATE

UPDATE, November 15, 2013The report (S. Rept. 113-120) to accompany the bill (S. 1681) is now available.  The committee “encourages” the GEOINT functional manager and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to “promptly review” a licensing request by “a commercial data provider” (i.e. DigitalGlobe) to collect and sell imagery with 0.25 meter resolution instead of 0.5 meter as currently allowed.  It also “directs” the DNI and Secretary of Defense to conduct an analysis of which national and military intelligence missions can be met with commerclal imagery, whether long-term (10 years or more) agreements with commercial providers is more cost effective than future government owned systems, and a risk/benefit analysis of commercial imagery.

ORIGINAL STORY, November 7, 2013:  The Senate Intelligence Committee marked up its FY2014 Intelligence Authorization bill on Tuesday.  In the report accompanying the bill, the committee recommends relaxation of restrictions on the resolution of satellite imagery sold by U.S. companies.

A committee press release states that it also calls for a review “to determine the appropriate role of commercial satellite imagery in fulfilling intelligence requirements.”

Details of precisely what the language recommends will not be known publicly until the report is released next week according to a spokesman for committee chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).  Brian Weiss, reached by email today, said “There is language in the unclassified report to accompany the bill,” which should be posted on the committee’s website “early next week.”  The bill itself is already posted there, but does not mention commercial satellite imagery.

The bill authorizes funding for U.S. intelligence agencies; commercial satellite imagery is a small part of its scope.  The committee agreed to the bill by a vote of 13-2.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) had contracts with two companies, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, over a decade to provide commercial satellite imagery to the government.  The most recent contract is called EnhancedView.   Last year, NGA decided it could not support two companies any longer and chose DigitalGlobe to continue receiving payments under EnhancedView.   DigitalGlobe later bought GeoEye.

Commercial satellite imagery with better than 0.5 meter resolution currently cannot be sold, even though the satellites may obtain imagery with higher resolution.  DigitalGlobe has been trying to obtain permission to sell imagery with resolution as good as 0.25 meter.  NOAA is responsible for regulating commercial satellite imagery companies.

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