In fact, civilians used to use satellites of their own to see how crops were doing, manage land, etc.
We’re no doubt in some pretty crazy times involving government spying and well as some crazy politics; but a recently declassified CIA document shows us that we’ve pretty much just always been in those times. You see, drone photography isn’t really a new advancement–according to said document the agency had been tracking civilians using satellites of their own to spy on the Russian military back in April 7th 1976.
Apparently it all started because American and French companies were competing with their SPOT and Landsat satellites. The Americans, who created Landsat, were able to do the whole image taking process a lot cheaper, but SPOT did it better. It states “With Spot, you’re able to see individual launchpads and rockets.” In fact, SPOT became very highly regarded by the Americans and the document implies that maybe we should be using it.
Oddly enough at that time, only the US and the Soviet Union were using spy satellites. The French, well, it doesn’t really say what they were using it for.
Even back that, there were issues with this in the same way that there are issues with drone usage. “At one constitutional extreme is personal privacy, and at the other is freedom of the press…” states the document. “It’s going to be interesting when somebody starts taking pictures of people sunbathing…”
The document even goes on to raise concern about terrorists using the technology and how they can go about maintaining the safety of the American public. So they concluded that sometimes you just shouldn’t take a picture.
The document later on talks about other really cool things like National Geographic publishing images of a rail system used to transport a Russian space shuttle.
Sound familiar? After 9/11, the US government banned civilians taking photos of certain government buildings. If you were in NYC or Washington DC, this was very strictly enforced. In NYC, you couldn’t even take photos in the subways–which limited a lot of what street photographers could do. After a few years though the law was relaxed.
You can read the declassified document for yourself on the CIA’s website.