The Bush administration is setting
up a policy that would allow the president to temporarily shut down the
satellites that run the global positioning system, The Associated Press reported Dec. 16.
GPS technology is a vital part of a number of systems used
by truckers, including Qualcomm systems used by some carriers, enhanced 9-1-1
cell phone service and some mapping systems.
It is powered by signals from a series of 24 satellites
developed by the U.S. military but later opened up to public use, according to
government sources. Shutting down the government satellite system would shut
down GPS capabilities used by every privately owned receiver on the planet.
On Dec. 15, the president’s Office of Science and Technology
Policy posted a documented titled “Fact Sheet on U.S. Space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing
Policy” on its Web site that described much of the president’s policy, and who
would make decisions regarding systems such as GPS in certain circumstances.
The shutdown would occur only in an extreme national
emergency, the report said.
That document says that on Dec. 8, Bush established a new
policy that covers “implementation actions for
space-based positioning, navigation, and timing programs, augmentations, and
activities for U.S. national and homeland security, civil, scientific and
commercial purposes.” That document noted that GPS and similar systems “provide
inherent capabilities that can be used by adversaries, including enemy military
forces and terrorist groups.”
“We must continue to improve
capabilities to deny adversary access to all space-based positioning,
navigation, and timing services, particularly including services that are
openly available and can be readily used by adversaries and/or terrorists to
threaten the security of the United States,” the president’s science advisers
wrote in the document.
is not something you would do lightly,” James A. Lewis of the Center for
Strategic and International Studies told The
AP. “It's clearly a big deal. You have to give them credit for being so
open about what they’re going to do.”
However, officials at Garmin
Industries – a GPS device maker based in the Kansas City area – told The
Kansas City Business Journal that because GPS signals are used for so many
purposes, it is unlikely that the Bush administration would ever issue an order
to shut the system down.
Garmin officials pointed out that
allowing public use of the system’s “pinpoint” capability – allowing people to
note their location within 15 to 30 feet – was allowed by the government in
2000. Before that, civilians using the system were allowed access to signals
that were accurate within roughly 300 feet. The government has retained the
right to take away access to the more accurate signals.
Despite that, the system was not
shut down after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the officials told The Business Journal.
Presently, the U.S. GPS system is the
only such system. Other governments are considering launching similar satellite