DigitalGlobe has pressed the government for years to allow it to
sell such imagery but U.S. government agencies worried that giving
public access to them could undermine the intelligence advantage
they have from even higher resolution satellite images.
The green light from the U.S. intelligence community follows rapid
advances by non-U.S. space imagery companies that have raised
concerns DigitalGlobe could lose market share if it is not allowed
to compete on high resolution images.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told an industry
conference that U.S. intelligence agencies had agreed to allow
commercial providers to sell higher resolution imagery but that the
decision still needed approval by other agencies.
Clapper said the recommendation "certainly bodes well for the
DigitalGlobe applied nearly one year ago for a license to increase
the resolution of its imagery from 50 cm to 25 cm. It welcomed
Clapper's remarks and said it hoped the U.S. government would act
quickly to finalize the decision.
The difference would allow observers to discern not just a car seen
by a satellite, but also the make of the car.
Clapper did not specify what exact resolution the intelligence
agencies had approved, but two sources familiar with the process
said they expected him to approve a phased implementation over the
course of this year.
Letitia Long, director of the U.S. government's National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, told reporters that American spy
agencies have "essentially endorsed that request" by DigitalGlobe to
sell 25-cm imagery.
The Colorado-based company is preparing to launch its new WorldView
3 satellite in August, which would allow the company to sell imagery
accurate to 31 cm, a company spokesman said.
"DigitalGlobe appreciates the intelligence community's support for
reforms to the current U.S. regulations," said Walter Scott, founder
and chief technical officer of DigitalGlobe.
"We are hopeful that the administration will act promptly on this
issue to advance the nation's commanding lead in this strategically
important industry," he added.
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Jeffrey Harris, a former director of the U.S. National
Reconnaissance Office and industry expert, said the decision to
allow sales of higher resolution commercial imagery would help
industry and the U.S. government by increasing transparency.
Allowing commercial providers to sell more accurate imagery at an
affordable price would allow the U.S. government to spend its money
and energy on higher-end government-owned capabilities, said Harris,
who was elected Tuesday as president of the U.S. Geospatial
Long said the advances by non-U.S. companies were a significant
factor in the intelligence community decision to endorse
"If you survey the world and what is going on in the international
arena, many countries are making progress," she said. "We want our
U.S. companies to be able to compete."
Long would not predict how long the White House review of the matter
A second source familiar with the imagery market said officials from
the Defense and Commerce departments, intelligence agencies and the
White House met to discuss the matter on Friday.
More senior officials must still approve the move, said the source,
who was not authorized to speak publicly, but it was not immediately
clear when that could occur.
(Reporting by Warren Strobel in Tampa and Andrea Shalal in
Washington; editing by Andrew Hay)
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