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Washington State Bill Would End Support of Warrantless Federal Spying Programs

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (Jan. 15, 2017) – A bill introduced in the Washington state House would end state cooperation with warrantless federal spying. Passage of the legislation would not only help protect privacy in Washington, it would help hinder unconstitutional federal surveillance.

A bipartisan coalition of five representatives introduced House Bill 1193 (HB1193) on Jan. 13. Titled the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, the legislation would ban state material support to any federal agency engaged in warrantless spying.

“It is the policy of this state to refuse material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency which claims the power, or with any federal law, rule, regulation, or order which purports to authorize, the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes  the person, place, and thing to be searched or seized.”

Specifically, it would prohibit state or local agencies and their employees in their official capacities from providing material support to federal agencies engaged in warrantless spying. It would also bar the use of any state assets or funds to engage in any activity that aids a federal agency, or a corporation providing services to the federal government, in the warrantless collection of electronic data or metadata.

HB1193 would prohibit the use of any information provided by the federal government that was obtained without a warrant in any state criminal investigation or prosecution.

Any political subdivision in the state violating the act would lose state grant funds the next year. State employees who violate the Fourth Amendment Protection Act would relinquish their position and would never be able to hold a state office again. Corporations who assist with warrantless spying could be barred from bidding on state contracts. HB1193 also includes criminal penalties for state officers violating the act.

The feds share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through a program known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, these partnerships facilitate federal efforts to track the movements of, and obtain and store information on, millions of Americans. This includes monitoring phone calls, emails, web browsing history and text messages, all with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.

According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators… have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant.

PRACTICAL EFFECT

Because the federal government relies heavily on partnerships and information sharing with state and local law enforcement agencies, passage of HB1193 could potentially hinder warrantless surveillance in the state. For instance, if the feds wanted to engage in mass surveillance on specific groups or political organizations in Washington, it would have to proceed without state or local assistance. That would likely prove problematic.

State and local law enforcement agencies regularly provide surveillance data to the federal government through ISE and Fusion Centers. They collect and store information from cell-site simulators (AKA “stingrays”), automated license plate readers (ALPRs), drones, facial recognition systems, and even “smart” or “advanced” power meters in homes. Passage of HB1193 could set the stage to end this sharing of warrantless information with the federal government. It would also prohibit state and local agencies from actively assisting in warrantless surveillance operations.

By prohibiting the use of warrantless data obtained by the feds and shared with state and local law enforcement, HB1193 would address a practical aspect of NSA spying that former Chief Technical Director William Binney called the country’s “greatest threat since the Civil War.”

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 (SOD) and the cases “rarely involve national security issues.” Almost all of the information involves regular criminal investigations, not terror-related investigations.

The SOD works with state and local law enforcement to “create” an investigation, working backward to obscure the origin of the evidence. For instance, the SOD might instruct local police to obtain a warrant to collect information they already have via information sharing. It creates the illusion that the investigation and prosecution proceeded in a constitutionally permissible way

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.

NSA FACILITIES

The original definition of “material support or resources” included providing tangible support such as money, goods, and materials and also less concrete support, such as “personnel” and “training.” Section 805 of the PATRIOT Act expanded the definition to include “expert advice or assistance.”

Practically-speaking, the legislation would almost certainly stop the NSA from ever setting up a new facility Washington and would set the stage to shut down any operating in the state.

In 2006, the agency maxed out the Baltimore-area power grid, creating the potential, as the Baltimore Sun reported, for a “virtual shutdown of the agency.” Since then, the NSA aggressively expanded in states like Utah, Texas, Georgia and elsewhere, generally focusing on locations that can provide cheap and plentiful resources like water and power.

For instance, analysts estimate the NSA data storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah, will use 46 million gallons of water every day to cool its massive computers. The city supplies this water based on a contract it entered into with the spy agency. The state could turn of the water by voiding the contract, or refusing to renew it. No water would effectively mean no NSA facility.

What will stop the NSA from expanding in other states? Bills like HB1193.  By passing this legislation, Washington would become much less attractive for the NSA because it would not be able to access state or local water or power supplies. If enough states step up and pass the Fourth Amendment Protection act, we can literally box them in and shut them down.

LEGAL BASIS

HB1193 rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program. The anti-commandeering doctrine is based primarily on four Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. Printz v. US serves as the cornerstone.

“We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the States’ officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policy making is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.”

NEXT UP

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a limited version of the Fourth Amendment Protection Act in 2014. The law prohibits state cooperation when a federal agency “requests” state assistance in data collection if there exists “actual knowledge that the request constitutes an illegal or unconstitutional collection of electronically stored information.” Although that law will need further steps to put into practical effect, it set a strong foundation that HB1193 would expand on for Washington state.

HB1193 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.