Grassroots campaign seeks to fry the NSA by turning off the water tap

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Tap image courtesy of ShutterstockIt's not easy for the NSA to keep violating the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution - which bans warrantless searches - say two groups, the Tenth Amendment Center and the Bill of Rights Defence Committee.

For one thing, it takes a lot of water.

Massive data-mining facilities hold the data the NSA pulls in, including the new $1.5 billion data center in Utah, which the groups say uses 1.7 million gallons a day to cool off super-hot servers that hold a mind-boggling amount of data (when they aren't popping fuses).

Cut off the water, and you cut off the NSA, the thinking goes.

As it is, the need for electricity and water is the spy agency's Achilles Heel, the groups point out on a site devoted to putting an arrow through that heel.

To get at that heel, states could cut off not only water but also access to public utilities and services, they suggest, including sanitation, road repair, electricity, and any other resources the NSA needs to keep the show on the road.

The groups suggest that states keep anybody from making a buck off the deal by inflicting "severe penalties" on businesses that might step up to sell the NSA the resources it so badly needs.

The grassroots campaign has come up with model legislation (PDF) - the "4th Amendment Protection Act" - for states to resist what it calls the "unconstitutional NSA programs [our link] that violate the 4th Amendment billions of times each week".

The legal rationale behind cutting off the NSA's supply chain is called "anti-commandeering", the groups say, and has been used in the past to resist the federal government in matters including returning runaway slaves.

From the site:

[Anti-commandeering is] the principle that the federal government doesn’t have the authority to force the states (or local communities) to carry out federal laws, regulatory programs, and the like. The Supreme Court affirmed this three times in recent years, the cases being: 1997 Printz, 2002 New York, 2012 Sebelius. It also affirmed this doctrine in the 1842 Prigg case where states refused to assist the federal government in capturing and returning runaway slaves. This is also consistent with what James Madison advised when writing about the Constitution in Federalist #46. Among the four steps he advised as “powerful means” to oppose federal power was "a refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union."

The "Turn It Off" campaign hopes that states that adopt versions of its proposed law would, at minimum, force the NSA to reconsider its collection tactics, if not evict the agency and force it to find a new home(s).

The bill has been introduced in ten states and has spawned related actions, including a campaign to cut off the NSA’s juice in Washington State that's received over 18,000 signatures.

Here are updates on versions of the legislation now wending their way through the legislative process (or getting stopped and frisked by law enforcement, as the case may be) in the states of Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire and Washington.

If not literally frisked, the proposed legislation is going to bump up against law enforcement agencies that don't want to stop doing warrantless surveillance.

That was made clear by Brett Hildabrand, the Representative who introduced Kansas's version of the "Turn It Off" legislation.

On Tuesday, Hildabrand tweeted that in a hearing over his bill, local law enforcement admitted that the bill's disallowing of warrantless surveillance would throw a monkey wrench into their own operations.

That's because, as the sheriff's department admitted, they now scan license plates and store data "of law-abiding citizens," Hildabrand wrote - something that HB 2124 would outlaw in its current form.

The Kansas sheriff's department is far from alone when it comes to local law enforcement's increasing use of not only license plate readers but a medley of other surveillance gizmos: gunshot-detection sensors, data-mining of social media posts for criminal activity, tracking of toll payments when drivers use electronic passes, and even at least one drone (in Texas; police in California's Alameda County wanted one too, but public protest forced them to give up that particular toy purchase).

I reached out to Hildabrand to get his take on whether this legislation has a snowball's chance in hell of getting passed in any state, given not only resistance from local law enforcement but also the money and high-paying jobs that come out of the NSA's data centers.

I'll update the story if he gets back to me.

In the meantime, please feel free to share your take on snowballs and having the cojones to stand up to the federal government in this manner in the comments section below.

Image of water tap courtesy of Shutterstock.

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22 Responses to Grassroots campaign seeks to fry the NSA by turning off the water tap

  1. Anonymous · 614 days ago

    This is exactly what separation of powers is. This is just the kind of thing the constitution protects. When our government gets dumb, tyrannical and appears to be doing more harm, "for our good," than good, things like this are how we return the power to the people and remind our government that they serve us and it is not us who bow to their needs. We don't like how soo much power is in the hands of the government and it's time to reign in their overreaching power.

  2. Blake · 614 days ago

    If you post a comment regarding criminal activities on facebook you deserve to get caught.

    • But would it be criminal though? It might be argued in court that such action was a last resort to uphold the Constitution, or to prevent a crime of violating of the Constitution, in the same way The Powers That Be used contorted legalise to get around various 'checks and balances'.

    • Yoc · 469 days ago

      Facebook is a public space. Scanning it for illegal activities should be no different than overhearing a guy at Walmart say he stole a TV.

  3. It isn't going to go anywhere. Too many deep pockets.

  4. Never Gonna Happen · 614 days ago

    Hildabrand and his groups forgot rule # 1 aka the Golden Rule - Those with the gold make the rules.

    States will not turn down an opportunity to create jobs or to increase revenue just because of spying on its citizens. Even most of the citizens don't care if they get a pay raise or pay less taxes.

    • Never Gonna Happen · 614 days ago

      > Even most of the citizens don't care if they get a pay raise or pay less taxes.

      Should be - Even most of the citizens don't care about getting spied on if they get a pay raise or pay less taxes.

      Dang no edit button!

  5. Sizzle · 614 days ago

    In the meantime all the excellent work the NSA does to protect the population suffers too.....

  6. NoSpin1600 · 614 days ago

    What happens when the federal government decides to withhold federal funding because a state decided to cut utilities to NSA facilities?

    • Twistedthoughts · 614 days ago

      They make a payment on the national debt...

    • Yoc · 469 days ago

      Happened years ago when Montana wanted to keep their speed limits higher than Federal limits. Feds cut road funding and Montana stepped in line again.

      I doubt many states could hold up without Federal money. Heck, the only reason the Feds stay afloat is by printing more money and taking out more loans.

  7. NoSpiesAllowed · 614 days ago

    We have no idea what 'excellent work' the NSA does, because it discloses none of it. But it has no authority to investigate domestically on such a broad scale, and the fact that it continues to do so should bother everyone of every political stripe who claims to be concerned about freedom and civil liberties. While I'm skeptical that this bill will pass, I applaud the nonviolent, creative thinking behind it.

    • Sizzle · 613 days ago

      Oh, the NSA can now see the picture of my tortoise that my girlfriend just sent me? I hope they enjoy it as much as I did. This has just got so out of control. What if the NSA are just a ploy and "Ned" is just all part of this trick of ensuring that the real people who are spying on you continue to have their identity concealed? Elaborate perhaps, but not as elbaorate as believing every individual is being monitored. So, what do you do.... you provide the population with a target for everyone to concentrate on whilst the real spy stuff happens generated by an "unknown".

      The fact that you're still typing posts on here is either a) you're not a threat and haven't been thrown into a dirty cell b) they really don't care about you. I'd opt for the latter.

      • c) they really don't care about you *today*.

        The broader point about the NSA data capture (and MAC address tracking by Nordstrum, Wi-Fi enabled trash cans in London or Twitter tracking the websites you visit etc) is not that everyone is being 'monitored' (as in actively watched) but that data is being recorded and stored, possibly forever.

        It is perfectly possible for the organisations who capture that data to be dealing with it safely and honourably now but since we can't predict the future we can't know if they will a) become nastier in future b) give the data to somebody else c) lose the data d) process or aggregate apparently innocuous or anonymous data into a form that is neither.

        All of those things have happened before. Examples abound.

        The more different organisations there are storing information about us, and the longer they store it, the more dangerous it becomes.

        As to your theory that this is cover for something else I sort of agree. What you don't hear much about is that a lot of the Snowden revelations date from 2008.

        We are dining out on a diet of revelations that are up to six years old.

        I don't think the Snowden leak is disinformation from, or organised by, the NSA (there was a lot less information around about surveillance before Snowden so it would surely have been better to keep it that way) but you are right that our focus is being drawn towards the information that we have - which is both old and very USA and UK-centric. It is, to paraphrase an infamous UK government email dated September 11 2001 "a good day to bury bad news"

        • Sizzle · 609 days ago

          I'm trying to think what has actually changed in the 35 years I've been alive in terms of my freedom. Very little. If anything it's actually improved. Do I feel oppressed? No. I've experienced oppression.... spending months in China gives you insight - when plain clothed officials appear out of nowhere when a group of over 5 people are standing together in parks with the intent of splitting them up as it could be an uprising against the government. We aren't anywhere near that or on that road so believing that we are is just paranoia.

          Also, throughout history, do we believe that organisations have become "nastier"? We can predict the future from looking at history.

          In any case, people accept terms and agreements everyday without even taking 5 minutes to read through where their data is going and what's being done with it. They just want the item or subscription so it's just "Yes, yes, I accept now gimme the prize, show me the money". How many people play Candy Crush? That's a lot of data freely being shared with a company they know nothing about and they're concerned about the NSA??? Strange logic.

          And petitioning on this article's comment section isn't going to stop anything.

  8. Given the drought across the southwest, I have to wonder: what happens to this water when they're done with it? Do they let it sit somewhere outside to cool off and reuse it? Dump it into the storm drain/sewer system? Discharge it back into a river? Resell it for use in gray water irrigation?

  9. Stace · 613 days ago

    What kills me is how gov especially talks of conserving and worries of water shortages and yet they waste so many resources; live in huge homes that consume vast amounts of energy; have bodyguards (the higher up gov folks) with guns (you know the bad things they want us to get rid of; i like my guns and the safety i feel having one nearby); seems to me if a poli talks of conserving or getting rid of things it applies to everyone but them

  10. Anonymous · 613 days ago

    We all want the NSA to protect the United States and do their job, we just never want to know how.

  11. Randy · 610 days ago

    They will fail. You cannot legislate privacy protection. The only way to protect your privacy is to shut off your smartphone and/or find a way to get along without one. The NSA cannot hack what you don't own or use.
    TOR Onion might be another way to communicate via computer without giving away all your metadata to the NSA.
    You know, it wasn't too many decades ago that companies had face to face meetings and people had coffee together somewhere and chatted. That must have driven the NSA nuts.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.