With some prominent privacy activists recognizing that appealing to Congress to stop NSA spying is futile, a hearing today in Utah shows that there is another path to shutting down mass surveillance. One that can work.
A bill known as the 4th Amendment Protection Act was introduced by Utah State Rep. Marc Roberts earlier this year. The goal if passed? To begin the process of turning off resources – like water – to the NSA facility in Bluffdale. Since the spy center will be using up to 1.7 million gallons of water to cool its servers every day, turning off the spigot will have the effect of shutting it down.
That’s just what happened in Nevada when they refused water permits to the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain nuclear storage project, and a federal judge even ruled in the state’s favor in 2007.
“The validity of Western states’ groundwater rights and the right to regulate water in the public interest is not a right to be taken lightly, nor is it a right that can cavalierly be ignored or violated by a federal agency,” wrote Judge Roger L. Hunt.
And while the Utah legislature didn’t pass the bill last spring, an important committee referred it to further study. That “study” happened today in an important public utilities interim committee hearing to investigate the data center’s deals on water and electricity.
There was significant public support for the bill both prior to and at the hearing. The room was packed, and it was even jokingly noted by a sponsor of another bill that the people were obviously not “there for my bill.” And one inside source said that committee members had received “tons” of emails in support of the legislation.
A well-known member of the tech community spoke in favor of the bill, explaining how he was moved in support due to another failure by Congress.
“I opposed the effort to turn off the water to the NSA data center last year because I was hoping the Federal Congress would take action,” said Pete Ashdown, the founder and CEO of Utah’s first independent and oldest Internet service provider, XMission. “They have tried three times to take action, and failed three times. So I really do think it is a state issue at this point to show that we do not support these infringements on our rights.”
“The data center here was welcomed by the state of Utah with a promise that their activities would remain within Constitutional bounds,” said Roberts. “I think we all know and are aware that has been violated,” he continued.
Joe Levi, vice-chair of the Davis County Republican Party, also spoke in favor of the bill. “This is a bill about civil rights, This is a bill that needs to be taken up and needs to be taken seriously,” he said.
“We all chuckle when we talk about how the NSA has already read this, how NSA probably is listening right now. That’s the problem,” continued Levi.
HARD TRUTH: THE NSA ISN’T GOING TO STOP ITSELF
At The Intercept today, Glenn Greenwald wrote that “Congress is irrelevant on mass surveillance,” and he’s right. In fact, he said what we’ve been saying here all along:
All of that illustrates what is, to me, the most important point from all of this: the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the U.S. government is . . . the U.S. government. Governments don’t walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power, and that’s particularly true of empires.
Following that, Greenwald explained what steps people should take to protect their privacy in an age where the US Government will not. But what he failed to mention might be the biggest one of all. Utah. If Utah – and 10-12 other states around the country – would turn off resources to the NSA, that would create an atmosphere where even if the agency weren’t fully shut down, they’d be reeling to the point that they could be run out of town.
And that’s the end goal.
Contact your state legislators today. Whether you live in an NSA-facility state or not, we need to box them in and make it nearly impossible for them to keep the lights on.
Together, we can pull the rug out from under the NSA and shut them down.