It’s easy to feel helpless when facing a government that has the power or claims the authority to spy on virtually everybody in the world with impunity.
BUT IT CAN BE STOPPED.
In 1975, Sen. Frank Church warned America about the federal spy program, saying that if a dictator took over the NSA it “could enable [him] to impose total tyranny.”
And that was before the advent of the Internet.
Here we are almost 40 years later and Congress hasn’t done a thing about it. In fact, things are actually far worse. Politicians in D.C. have repeatedly failed to fix the issue, even in the wake of leaked documents and damning revelations.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu advised this strategy: “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”
The NSA expects its opponents to “attack” from the same front they always have: Washington D.C. It’s ready for that.
But it does have an Achilles Heel.
In 2006, the Baltimore Sun reported that the NSA had maxed out capacity of the Baltimore-area power grid.
“The NSA is already unable to install some costly and sophisticated new equipment. At minimum, the problem could produce disruptions leading to outages and power surges. At worst, it could force a virtual shutdown of the agency.”
FACT: The spy agency needs resources like water and electricity. It simply cannot operate its facilities without these essential resources.
State and local governments often supply them. For instance, the NSA storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah, will reportedly use up to 1.7 million gallons of water every single day when fully operational. The city holds the contract to supply that water.
It doesn’t have to.
Nothing requires state or local governments to help the federal government violate your rights!
Under the legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine, the Supreme Court has consistently held that the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce federal acts or programs. It rests primarily on four Supreme Court cases: Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), New York v. US (1992), Printz v. US (1997) and National Federation of Businesses v. Sebelius (2012).
Printz serves the cornerstone.
“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…such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.”
Instead of relying on the federal government to reform its own spy program, the OffNow plan involves working at the state level to create an environment that makes it politically and logistically impossible for the NSA and other federal agencies to continue illegal surveillance programs.
The strategy centers around state and local legislation designed to deprive the NSA and other agencies engaged in warrantless spying of the resources and cooperation they need to operate and accomplish their goals.
The short version? We intend to pull the rug out from under them, box them in and shut them down.
This model legislation (HERE), ready for introduction in any state, would ban a state (and all its political subdivisions) from providing assistance or material support in any way to federal spying programs.
This would include, but is not limited to:
- Refusing to supply water or electricity from state or locally-owned or operated utilities.
- Ending NSA partnerships with public universities and colleges.
- Prohibiting state officials from using warrantless data given to them by federal agencies
Within the scope of current jurisprudence, state law cannot prevent the federal government from bringing in its own supplies. But, the 2006 power grid issue indicates that in many situations, the federal government simply cannot do this on its own.
As a legal matter, contracts for water, electricity and other resources and services are simply voluntary agreements made between the federal government (or its agents) and the state or local government. States legitimately can and should decide whether to honor the request based on the state’s own set of priorities.
The states and local communities should simply turn it off.
In fact, Nevada took this path against the powerful Department of Energy, and won.
The federal government relies on many states and local communities to provide the resources required to maintain its spying programs.
But the states and local communities aren’t required to help them out.
In Texas, the city-owned power company will exclusively supply the new data center opening in San Antonio with electricity. The agency was quite upfront about the fact that it choose Texas because of its independent power grid.
In Augusta Ga., local government services provide water and even sewage treatment to the “threat operations center.”
The NSA also maintains “data centers” or “listening posts” in Colorado, Washington, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Hawaii.
Each facility presents unique circumstance where a multi-prong strategy can and will create impediments to their operation.
More importantly, the NSA has been aggressively expanding to new locations in recent years, and the public rarely knows about a new location until after a deal has been made behind the scenes. Passage of the Fourth Amendment Protection Act in states that don’t yet have a physical facility will back the spy agency into a corner, pulling the welcome mat out from under them.
The NSA also its tentacles deep into America’s youth, with tight partnerships at Universities in all but eight US states. At this time, 171 universities participate in this program. (see the full list here)
These “Centers of Academic Excellence” serve as recruiting grounds and provide valuable research partnerships to bolster the NSA’s spying and data-collection capabilities. When a state passes the 4th Amendment Protection Act, it begins the process of shutting down these partnerships as well.
2. DATA SHARING
The federal government claims it must spy on virtually the entire world in order to protect you from “terrorism.” Many people accept this kind of personal intrusion believing it keeps them safe. But the fact is these programs are much broader – by far.
The Special Operations Division (SOD) operates as a formerly-secret federal unit that passes information collected without warrant by the NSA and other agencies to state and local law enforcement for the investigation of regular crimes – not terrorism-related at all. Federal agencies almost certainly also give warrantless information to state and local governments via Fusion Centers.
Fusion centers facilitate the exchange of information between state, local and federal agencies, and their existence in virtually every state highlights how deep into our communities Big Brother has infiltrated. These facilities make up part of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), a consortium that includes the NSA, FBI, Department of Defense and many others. Fusion Centers “contribute to the ISE through their role in receiving threat information from the federal government.”
In other words, they serve as one of the primary means of passing warrantless information along from federal to state and local agencies.
Passage of the 4th Amendment Protection Act, or the more narrowly-focused Electronic Data Privacy Act would ban the receipt of warrantless information by state and local law enforcement (and other agencies), and make such information inadmissible in state criminal proceedings, ending a small but important practical effect of warrantless federal spying.
While Off Now focuses heavily on limiting or ending spying by targeting NSA collection programs, there are other areas where privacy rights are in serious danger.
The expanding use of drones for domestic policing at the state and local level poses significant threats to privacy. In most states, law enforcement can utilize drones with virtually no restrictions. Ten states have passed laws limiting drone use, including warrant requirements and some with prohibitions on weaponization. Other states need to follow suit, and states with laws on the books need to take action to close loopholes and strengthen their provisions.
Drone use by state and local law enforcement also has national implications. In fact, the Federal government serves as the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance carried out by states and local communities.The Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so that those agencies can purchase drones. The goal? Fund a network of drones around the country and put the operational burden on the states. Once they create a web over the whole country, DHS steps in with requests for ‘information sharing.’
Passing legislation to limit drone use at the state level not only provides immediate privacy protection to people within that state, it also puts a dent in a long-term program for seemingly endless surveillance on a federal level.
While many NSA locations rely on state or local governments to assist or directly provide badly-needed utilities, others partner closely with corporations.
For example, in Augusta, Ga., a partnership with Georgia Power (a subsidiary of the massive electric holding company in the US, the Southern Company), literally kept the lights on.The local paper reported that “Before a partnership in 2006 with Georgia Power, outages were a regular occurrence on post, particularly during the summer, when heavy demands were placed on the system.”
A follow up bill to the 4th Amendment Protection Act would allow states to end business relationships with compliant corporations happy to profit from NSA abuses.
LOCAL SURVEILLANCE AND THE BIG PICTURE
As a result of the rapid evolution of information sharing, locally-gathered information doesn’t remain “local” for very long. With new intelligence sharing systems like these fusion centers, along with Joint Terrorism Task Forces and the ISE, information collected by local police in any city or small town in America can now quickly end up in federal intelligence databases. That means your information becomes accessible across the country with a click of a mouse.
Many people think they remain safe from the prying eyes of Big Brother because they don’t do anything “suspicious.”
It turns out law enforcement uses a pretty loose definition of suspicious. Programs known as “Suspicious Activity Reporting” (SAR) serve as information vacuums to feed the fusion centers, and it doesn’t take much to put you on their radar. According to the ACLU, in early 2008, the DNI ISE Program Manager published criteria to guide local law enforcement officers in reporting “suspicious” activities to fusion centers and and then upline to the federal intelligence community. Some of the activities deemed inherently suspicious include photography, “acquisition of expertise,” and “eliciting information.”
It didn’t take long for local police to take up the gauntlet. The ACLU reports that within three months, the Los Angeles Police Department kicked off its own program.
“The following March the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) initiated its own SAR program to ‘gather, record, and analyze information of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism,’ and included a list of 65 behaviors LAPD officers ‘shall’ report, which included taking pictures or video footage, taking notes, drawing diagrams and espousing extreme views.”
In June of that same year, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security teamed up with the Major City Chiefs Association to issue a report recommending expansion or the SAR program to other U.S. cities. According to the ACLU, “the FBI began its own SAR collection program called eGuardian in 2008, and in 2010 the military announced it would implement a SAR program through eGuardian.”
The OffNow campaign primarily focuses on action against federal surveillance programs. But with the line between federal, state and local law enforcement becoming increasingly blurred, Americans also need to pay attention to local actions to see and understand the big picture.
Simply put, when local governments seize the power to watch you, that information will ultimately end up in the hands of federal agencies most certainly trying to monitor the actions, communications and movement of virtually every person on earth.
Add to this an FBI facial recognition program coming online and you have the potential for an Orwellian nightmare scenario. As the technology improves and facial recognition “learns” to identify more people, federal agencies will gain the capability to track your every movement, in real time, through networks of cameras around the country.
Former NSA technical leader and whistleblower William Binney says, “There have been at least 15-20 trillion constitutional violations” by the NSA.
We must engage a multi-prong strategy to deal with a surveillance establishment so well-entrenched and broad in scope.
Currently, many activists are engaged in the support of lawsuits or Congressional legislation to limit or stop the NSA. But waiting for these to play out positively could prove a dangerous game of chicken.
By approaching the surveillance state on multiple fronts, it is possible to overwhelm it and make its programs too difficult or costly to carry out. A program to Turn it Off and thwart the surveillance state through state legislation intersects in six main areas:
1. Denying federal agencies engaged in warrantless surveillance the resources they need to operate.
2. Prohibiting the introduction of warrantless information collected by the feds and shared with state and local law enforcement in state criminal proceedings.
3. Ending warrantless location tracking of cellphones, and physical surveillance by drones.
4. Ending cooperative partnerships between universities and the NSA.
5. Penalizing corporations that cooperate with mass, warrantless surveillance.
6. Addressing state and local actions that feed into the larger surveillance-state, such as fusion centers, suspicious activity reporting, surveillance cameras and license plate readers.
Rosa Parks demonstrated the power of “No!”
When she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery city bus, she ignited a fire that ultimately consumed Jim Crow.
We possess that same power today. State and local governments can say, “No!” to warrantless spying and simply refuse to cooperate with it.
This one word gives us the power to reject mass surveillance and restore privacy. But it can only happen if we muster up the necessary courage to act.
“The only tired I was…was tired of giving in,” Parks later said.
Are you tired? Are you tired of sitting back and feeling helpless as the federal government violates your privacy? Are you tired of excuses and justifications from Washington politicians? Are you tired of being ignored?
Then take action!
Join us as we work to take apart the surveillance state!