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SATELLITE PICS GOING DARK?

frances5.gifYou might be able to see the hurricanes heading for Florida. Maybe. But just about all other commercial satellite imagery could be put off-limits, if a new Senate bill goes through as planned.The measure, "Nondisclosure of Certain Products of Commercial Satellite Operations," would exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) unclassified, commercial satellite pictures bought up by the government, as well as "any... other product that is derived from such data.""Almost every clause of the proposed exemption embodies patent hostility to the conventions of open government and public access to government information," Secrecy News fumes.For example, "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."News reports would get a whole lot thinner, too. As Barbara Cochran, head of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, notes, the press relies on satellite pictures constantly, to track everything from weather to war to population shifts. "Recent uses include coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts; nuclear and other WMD sites in Iran, Pakistan, India, Libya, North Korea, China, and other countries; flooding in Bangladesh and Eastern India; deforestation in Brazil; wildfires and tornadoes in the United States; and refugee crises in the Sudan [and] Rwanda," she writes.If this regulation passes, much of that imagery not classified in any way, and collected by a private company, not a government agency -- would vanish from public view."In essence," Cochran says in a letter to Congress, "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."THERE'S MORE: "The Justice Department has asked an appellate court to keep its arguments secret for a case in which privacy advocate John Gilmore is challenging federal requirements to show identification before boarding an airplane," the Washington Post reports.

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