Turning Them Off: The Plan to Beat NSA Spying at the State and Local Levels

Shane Trejo
Activist Post

Everywhere you turn, there is a tenured bureaucrat repeating the same lies in support of the NSA.

Whether it is someone like Peter King on the right, or Dianne Feinstein on the left, it is always a version of “the NSA needs to destroy our rights in order to make us safe.”

At some level, how can you blame them for using these tactics? It’s an excuse that has worked for government power-grabs throughout history.

But as the public sours on the federal bureaucracy amid a laundry list of scandals that make Nixon look like a Boy Scout, the people are finally starting to shake off their fear of the terrorist bogeyman and rightfully consider an out-of-control government as the real threat to their freedom.


But sitting around complaining isn’t enough, even though we can come up with an endless list of complaints to share. We desperately need to do something about the NSA, and the odds of Barack Obama or Congress stopping them is virtually zero. The federal government is beyond hopeless.

Writing in Federalist #46, James Madison gave us a blueprint on how to deal with situations like this. The best part? We don’t need to rely on Feinstein, King, Obama, or the NSA. They’ll never limit their own power anyway.

Here’s what Madison recommended:

Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.

Madison tells us the solution to federal overreach is to push back at the state and local level rather than lobbying despots to reduce their own power.


State and local resistance is not some antiquated idea that stopped being relevant in the 1830s. As a matter of fact, it’s more successful and widespread today than it has ever been. The most publicized example of this is marijuana legislation.

America has waged a War on Drugs for many decades, squandering hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars in a futile crusade. Not only has this been ineffective, it has also created a country with the most bloated prison population in the history of the world.

However, the people got involved and made a difference themselves. Rather than begging the federal government to give them their rights, they went around them completely, getting involved at the state level to legalize marijuana. They did not listen to the folks who told them that the federal government was supreme and resistance was futile. They rejected the naysayers, got involved and fought back against injustice.

And they won.

Marijuana is now legal in Washington and Colorado in direct contradiction to federal law. What did the supposedly supreme federal government do in response? They backed off. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They didn’t have the resources to enforce their bans without state compliance, and there is no reason why this cannot work on any other issue – even NSA spying.


The OffNow coalition has drafted model legislation that takes on the NSA at the state and local levels. The Fourth Amendment Protection Act cuts Big Brother off from using our natural resources to spy on us. If enough state and local governments utilize this tool, the NSA’s entire operation will eventually change, or go belly-up.

The anti-commandeering doctrine provides the legal basis for this legislation. In four Supreme Court Cases capped by Printz v. US in 1997, the Supreme Court has held that the federal government cannot commandeer state agencies or resources to enforce or implement federal acts. The bottom line is that there is nothing in the Constitution that says states have to cooperate with the federal government as it violates your rights.

Because the scope of the NSA’s spying operation is so limitlessly vast, it needs a tremendous amount of resources to pull it off. For example, it takes 1.7 million gallons of water per day to cool the spy computers in Utah alone. The NSA gets many of these resources from the state government.

That means we can turn it off.

This bill does not physically shut down the NSA, but rather creates Madisonian “obstructions which the federal government would be hardly willing to encounter.” By denying compliance and material support, we make it virtually impossible for the NSA to operate. Here is what our bill does:

First, it will prohibit state and local agencies within their jurisdiction from providing any material support to the NSA. Second, it will make information unconstitutionally gathered by the NSA and shared with law enforcement inadmissible in state court. Third, it will defund universities serving as NSA research facilities or recruiting grounds. And finally, the legislation makes corporations doing business with the NSA ineligible for state or local government contracts.


Armed with the knowledge that there’s something that can, in fact, be done about unconstitutional NSA spying – and it doesn’t require you to count on the federal government to limit its own power – there are a number of steps you should be taking right now.

  1. LEGISLATION: Get a copy of the state-level 4th Amendment Protection Act here.
  2. LEARN: More about the legislation here
  3. CONTACT: Your state senator and representative today. Strongly, but respectfully, encourage them to introduce the act in your State. (tip: a phone call will have far more impact than an email). Contact info here
  4. GET UPDATES: On the effort nationally and in your state – here.

Battling the NSA won’t prove easy. But Americans cannot sit idly by and watch an agency that is supposed to help defend our homeland shred the very fabric it was woven out of.

Instead of sitting down satisfied with the efforts we have already made, which is the wish of our enemies, the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance. -Samuel Adams

Shane Trejo is the National Campaign Lead for OffNow.org

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