The world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was launched in 1957 by Russia. This provided countries around the world with the impetus to begin launching their own satellites. The United States launched its first satellite in 1958 called Explorer I, known officially as Alpha. Satellite surveillance is a technological capability associated mainly with the military and organizations like the CIA and FBI. However, with advancements in technology, various telecommunications companies, media corporations and governments have also launched satellites.
Law Enforcement Agencies
Law enforcement agencies have benefited from the use of satellites in law enforcement actions and for logistical purposes. With satellite surveillance, it is possible for these agencies to keep track of the movements of suspected criminals on the ground, identify cars that have been reported stolen and possibly even read license plates. Law enforcement uses satellite imagery to track people wanted for various crimes, spy on them inside their hiding places and plan raids that keep casualties to a minimum.
War Planning and Fighting Terrorism
Satellite surveillance through satellite imagery has enabled America to penetrate cloud cover, detect chemical traces, identify objects and the number of humans in a building by body heat, spot underground bunkers and identify weapons storage areas. Real time video and high resolution imagery have helped the army, navy and air force plan attacks in wartime. The American armed forces no longer go in blind to fight a battle. With the help of satellite surveillance, very detailed plans can be made for successful stealth attacks, as was demonstrated in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s dwelling.
Violation of Individual Privacy Rights
A number of civil rights groups and privacy groups have opposed satellite surveillance and other types of surveillance as a violation of an individual’s right to privacy. Calling satellite surveillance an infringement on personal liberty, diverse groups and individuals have filed lawsuits against the Department of Justice and large corporations to oppose surveillance and monitoring activities. It is difficult to estimate the number of people under surveillance, because some of the technologically advanced countries have the capability to perform multitarget surveillance.
Risk of Abuse
In the beginning, satellite surveillance technology was controlled by a few government agencies. However, as technology progressed and more private corporations began using the technology, the risk of abuse of the technology greatly increased. There are many private companies in America engaged in the satellite business, including Lockheed, Westinghouse, Comsat, Boeing, Hughes Aircraft, Rockwell International and General Electric. Some of the risks of abuse of satellite surveillance technology include industrial espionage, illegal spying on business rivals and countries, and stealing of classified information.