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Shut it Down: Utah Bill Would Turn Off Water to NSA Data Center

A bill filed in the Utah state house yesterday would deny critical resources – like water – to the massive NSA data center there should it pass.

House Bill 150 (HB150), introduced by Rep. Marc Roberts, would require that the water being supplied to the NSA’s data center in Bluffdale be shut off as soon as the city’s $3 million bond is paid off.

Roberts introduced the bill last year and it was referred to an interim study committee in order to carry the issue over to the 2015 session. In November, that committee held a public hearing that revealed the legislation has significant momentum and support. Roberts tightened up some language based on discussions over the summer and the bill is now ready to move through the legislative process.

Early reports indicated that the NSA would need up to 1.7 million gallons of cooling water each day to keep their supercomputers functional. Documents released at a committee hearing in Salt Lake City last fall show that usage is less, currently indicating that the facility is not yet fully online.

But those resources are still required to keep the data center operational.

Back in 2006, the NSA maxed out the electricity available at the Baltimore Power grid, leading insiders to fear a virtual shutdown of the agency due to lack of resources. This, in part, pushed the agency into a long search to diversify their facilities in places like Utah, Texas and elsewhere.

According to a report at the Libertas Institute, under the bill, political subdivisions of the state may not:

  • provide material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency;
  • use any assets, state funds, or funds allocated by the state or a local entity, in whole or in part, to engage in any activity that aids a federal data collection and surveillance agency;
  • provide services or assist in any way with the provision of services to a federal data collection and surveillance agency; or
  • use any information in a criminal investigation or prosecution provided by a federal data collection and surveillance agency.

Not only would this follow Nevada’s successful path of banning water to effectively block the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain project, it would also ban local participation in a federal surveillance program that whistleblower and former NSA technical chief William Binney has referred to as the most “threatening situation since the civil war.”

The bill would ban the state from obtaining or making use of electronic data or metadata obtained by the NSA without a warrant.

Reuters revealed the extent of such NSA data sharing with state and local law enforcement in an August 2013 article. According to documents obtained by the news agency, the NSA passes information to police through a formerly secret DEA unit known Special Operations Divisions and the cases “rarely involve national security issues.” Almost all of the information involves regular criminal investigations, not terror-related investigations.

In other words, not only does the NSA collect and store this data. using it to  build profiles, the agency  encourages state and local law enforcement to violate the Fourth Amendment by making use of this information in their day-to-day investigations.

This is “the most threatening situation to our constitutional republic since the Civil War,” Binney said.

For penalties and enforcement, the bill empowers any Utah citizen to bring an action in court to enforce its provisions. A political subdivision found to be in violation of this law would be denied any state funds until it is once again compliant with the law.

Since congress and the president have so far refused to take any steps to limit federal surveillance powers, Roberts bill is seen by some supporters as the last stand. And with similar bills already introduced in Alaska, Washington State, Missouri, Indiana and South Carolina – and more to come –  their goal is to “box them in and shut the spying down.”

NEXT UP

HB150 will first be assigned to a House committee, where it will need to pass by a majority vote before the full house can consider it.

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