SALT LAKE CITY, Mar 7, 2014 – With Utah legislative session ending in just days, a state house panel held its first hearing today on a bill which supporters hope will be used to turn off the water to the new NSA data center in that state.
The Utah Fourth Amendment Protection Act would ban the state and its political subdivisions from providing material support or resources to federal agencies engaged in mass warrantless surveillance programs. This would include the up to 1.7 million gallons of water per day being supplied to the facility by a political subdivision of the state, ostensibly a life-or-death source of cooling for the massive supercomputers there.
Bill sponsor Marc Roberts (R-Santaquin) introduced the bill by pointing out some history. “Prior to the revolutionary war, many colonists were search and their property seized by British officers under what were referred to as general warrants,” he said. “The 4th Amendment is a direct result of that experience.”
“For me, this bill is about the 4th Amendment,” he said.
Also testifying in support of the bill Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, noted that the bill was not only based on sound constitutional grounds, but was also necessary.
“To the extent that the congressional oversight [of the NSA] that we were supposed to be relying on has been insufficient, and to the extent that the courts have been unable to sufficiently respond, then what,” he asked. “The anti-commandeering doctrine suggests that it can, should and in some cases must fall to the states.”
The legal doctrine Boyack mentioned is the basis for the legislation. Citing four cases from 1842 to 2012, he noted that it has been regularly upheld by the Supreme Court that the federal government cannot “commandeer” or force the states to utilize manpower or resources to help carry out federal acts.
The committee voted to keep the issue open by sending the bill to interim study, a process by which hearings are conducted on the bill, giving the public and legislators the ability to fully discuss the legislation and find the path forward when the house convenes its next session in January, 2015.
Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey was happy with the results. “When you’re talking about doing something as big as turning off the water to the NSA, you tend to be very happy with every small step of progress,” he said. “By voting to have open public hearings on the legislation rather than killing the bill by trying to rush it through the house and senate in just a matter of days, the issue stays alive and allows us to build more public support going into the next round.”
Boyack agreed. “In preparing this bill for committee meeting, we were able to take a peek under the covers of state government and discover a number of agencies working with the NSA,” he said. “Interim study will allow further time to investigate these activities in detail and determine the best path forward in severing the connection between the NSA and Utah.”
Interim study begins in April and ends in December. It is yet unknown how many hearings will be set for the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. A schedule of public events will be posted on the Utah state legislature website once an agenda is confirmed.