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News & Press: MSS News

New Low-Cost Spy Satellites Are Getting Scarily Powerful

Monday, January 22, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ebonique Ellis
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Finland’s ICEYE and Capella Space are set to launch satellites this year featuring radar that cheaply scans the Earth regardless of weather conditions.

 

by MARK WALLACE

 

At long last, that tin-foil hat may come in handy.

Though there’s been a radical increase in government surveillance in the decade and a half since September 11, 2001, the fact is that so-called “spy satellites” are still not capable of doing much more than taking the occasional snapshot (albeit a very high-resolution one) of a portion of the surface of the Earth. While Enemy of the State, the canonical 1998 thriller about the dangers of unrestricted government surveillance, depicted satellite imagery tracking an unwitting Will Smith through the streets and suburbs of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the reality is that the surveillance satellites of today are simply not up to such a detailed level of real-time monitoring.

But truth is beginning to catch up to fiction, and two companies—one Finnish, one American—are now vying to be first to launch a new kind of satellite constellation that will radically amp up surveillance capabilities, even if they won’t achieve Jerry Bruckheimer-esque levels of scrutiny. What’s more, lower costs will mean that what’s seen by these eyes in the sky will be available to a wider range of customers than current satellite imagery.

The changes are set to have a significant impact on doing business around the globe. Perhaps more importantly, they raise serious questions that will need to be addressed about how we navigate a world in which more information is public than ever before. “We can imagine a series of market-rational decisions that produce a society we really don’t want,” says Neil Richards, an expert on privacy issues and a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “That’s my biggest worry.”

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