So there's David Letterman interviewing the actor, activist, and now AARP eligible, George Clooney, last night, when the questioning gets around (no doubt pre-conditionally) to Clooney's genuinely admirable charitable activities in the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. Clooney replies [and I paraphrase] that, at the moment, he is primarily involved in leasing a satellite to monitor potentially intrusive military activity along the fragile Republic's border by the unfriendly regime to its north.
BING! goes my old newsman's ¿que tal? alert, as I await what has to be Letterman's next question: "do you mean to tell us that private citizens can actually rent spy satellites?" Well, the question didn't get asked (maybe Dave already knew the answer) so your intrepid correspondent was all over the web this morning seeking the answer which, in fact, turns out to be: yes, we can.
Thanks to Congress's passage of the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, private companies such as DigitalGlobe in Longmont, Colorado can indeed operate such satellites under license from the Department of Commerce and lease them to whomever, including Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), an outgrowth of the advocacy group, Not on Our Watch, founded by Clooney and his fellow global activists, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt.
One of DigitalGlobe's biggest customers is, as I should have realized, Google, with its virtually galactic reach; but I'd always thought Google simply bought last year's non-real-time, non-sensitive, imagery from the DoD since the pictures on Google Earth don't actually have to move (although, I guess, neither do SSP's).
Which puts me in mind -- however irrelevantly -- of Galileo's supposed sotto voce comment, when he abjured the heresy of Heliocentrism before his inquisitors: "eppur si muove" (but still, it moves).
Anyway, if you have lotsa bucks, and want to surreptitiously observe what's going on behind your neighbor's fence, you now know where to turn.