NOAA considers new space sensing regulations
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) held a hearing in mid-June to solicit public comments before it drafts revised regulations under the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act, which may restrict access to high- resolution satellite images.
Participants, primarily from companies licensed to operate high- resolution photography satellites, criticized regulations that interfere with commerce, including restrictions upon the release of information. Media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said in earlier written comments that government control and regulation of remote sensing data would be inconsistent with First Amendment guarantees of free speech. They said that American companies, including media companies, should be able to obtain high- resolution images under government licensing regulations.
NOAA’s general counsel said the agency hopes to make the government satellite’s licensing process easier for companies. Only ten licenses have been issued since they first became available in 1993.
Representatives of companies licensed to operate satellites expressed concern that NOAA did not specify who, for national security reasons, may not be provided with sensing information. NOAA responded that the unpredictable nature of national security requires a case-by- case approach. But the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce noted that parties that make use of satellite photographs would be reluctant to work with American companies in the absence of a written government policy. As a result, foreign companies may gain business and improve their technology, possibly endangering national security.
Industry representatives also asked whether the United States plans to enter into agreements with other nations to limit the resolution at which their territories may be photographed. NOAA claimed that this issue was outside its authority, but the business officials noted that such restrictions probably would be implemented only through the licensing process.
The new regulations are expected to be announced in October.