If the Defense Department has its way, some satellite images now used by the news media in stories about everything from natural disasters to hunts for those elusive weapons of mass destruction will be off-limits.
According to the Radio-Television News Directors Association, which is protesting the move, Congress has added language to the Defense Authorization Act of 2005 that would exempt from FOIA requests nonclassified government satellite images. In addition, the legislation would preempt state and local disclosure laws.
Since the government buys some of those photos under exclusive deals, it argues that compelled disclosure "defeats the purpose of those exclusive deals, defeats the purpose of [exclusive] licensing agreements, removes any profit motive," oh, and while they are at it, "may damage the national security by mandating disclosure to the general public upon request."
RTNDA concedes that there are serious and direct threats to national security that might justify the withholding of some images, but says that in those cases, "it should be classified by the government under established, formal classification procedures.".
RTNDA has shown increasing concern over restrictions to access to information in the name of national security.
"Recent uses [of remote satellite images] include coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts; nuclear and other WMD sites in Iran, …flooding in Bangladesh and Eastern India; deforestation in Brazil; wildfires and tornadoes in the United States; and refugee crises in the Sudan, Rwanda and other countries," RTNDA President Barbara Cochran wrote in a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif). "The usefulness of such imagery in covering wars, refugees, disasters, genocides, illicit weapons, etc., is readily apparent."