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Limiting State Spying Also Limits the Feds

When we talk about the federal surveillance state, we tend to focus our attention on agencies such as the NSA, the FBI and even the DEA.

No doubt, these agencies certainly do their fair share of spying, and they form the core of the American surveillance state. But the feds don’t operate alone.

Far from it.

In fact, they rely heavily on state and local law enforcement to do the heavy lifting. Your local cops vacuum up all kinds of data and information, and then happily hand it over to the federal government. In exchange, state and local law enforcement agencies cash in with high tech goodies funded by dollars flowing in from Washington D.C.

Our work at OffNow has most visibly focused on efforts to cut state resources to the NSA and other federal agencies engaged in warrantless surveillance. But while it may seem less glamorous, and it lacks the high profile media buzz that turning off NSA water generates, our work to pass laws limiting surveillance at the state level might be even more important.

The lines between local, state and federal surveillance have become blurred almost to the point of non-existence. The feds have essentially turned state and local law enforcement into mini-spy agencies working for them. As a result, actions restricting surveillance and information gathering, and protecting privacy at the state level have a significant spillover effect. Make no mistake; if we want to protect our privacy, we can’t just worry about the NSA. We must deal with what local cops do in our own back yards.

Two laws went into effect over the weekend that serve as perfect examples of how state laws impact federal spying.

A new Minnesota law places strict limits on the use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) by law enforcement in the state. It also creates a significant roadblock in the way of a federal program using states to help track the location of millions of everyday people through pictures of their license plates.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency, tracks the location of millions of vehicles. They’ve engaged in this for nearly eight years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy.

State and local law enforcement agencies operate most of these tracking systems, paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database to track the whereabouts of millions of people – simply because they’re driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.

Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, the new Minnesota law takes a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in the state.

The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.

Laws like one that went into effect in North Dakota restricting drone use have a similar effect on the federal surveillance state. The feds fund drone programs and then tap into the information gathered by state and local law enforcement through fusion centers, and a federal program known as the information sharing environment. Limiting the information drones can collect in states like North Dakota limits the information available for sharing with the feds.

Again, the feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.

OffNow will aggressively continue efforts to turn off the water to the NSA facility in Utah, and cut resources to the spy agency in other states. But we also plan to place increasing emphasis on limiting drone surveillance, ALPR use, location tracking and other surveillance techniques at the state and local level. To end federal spying, we must erode away its support at the state and local level.

For more information on how to get involved, click HERE.

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