On Monday, an Arizona state senate committee became the first legislative body in the country to pass a bill designed to thwart surveillance programs from the National Security Agency (NSA).
Senate Bill 1156 (SB1156), the Arizona 4th Amendment Protection Act, was introduced by Sen. Kelli Ward and 14 other sponsors and co-sponsors.
The bill faced its first hurdle today, with an important hearing and vote in the Senate’s Government and Environment committee, where it required passage by majority vote to move forward. After a lengthy debate with significant opposition from state agencies, SB1156 was passed by the committee with a vote of 4-2. One member was absent, not voting.
Based on model legislation drafted by the OffNow Coalition, SB1156 would ban the state from engaging in activities which help the NSA carry out their warrantless data-collection programs, or even make use of the information on a local level.
The Coalition is organized by the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), a civil liberties group advised by well-known anti-establishment figures such as Daniel Ellsberg and Naomi Wolf.
Ward said that her goal was to protect the liberty and the Constitution. Paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin she said, “We cannot sacrifice liberty for security.”
The legislation bans the use of warrantless data in state courts. A Reuters report last year revealed that the NSA shares data with state and local law enforcement through a secret outfit called the Special Operation Division (SOD). The federal government also shares data mined by its agencies, including the NSA, through “fusion centers.
Reports in the Washington Post and USA Today last fall documented how “the FBI and most other investigative bodies in the federal government” are regularly using a mobile device known as a “stingray” to intercept and collect electronic data without a warrant. Local and state police “have access through sharing agreements.”
Ward suggested that this might be the most important part of the bill, a “prohibition against using data in state and local courts if that information is collected without a warrant.”
Shane Trejo of OffNow agreed. “While Arizona might not be able to physically stop the NSA and other federal agencies from collecting our data without a warrant, legislation such as this can significantly reduce the practical effect of what they are trying to do with it, namely, use it within the states for non-terror criminal cases, which is a gross violation of the 4th Amendment,” he said.
The legislation would also ban Arizona from providing material support or resources to the operation of any federal facilities engaged in the warrantless surveillance of people in Arizona. While the NSA does not operate a physical facility in the state, the prohibition of material support sends an important message to the spy agency by pulling up the welcome mat.
“We know the NSA is aggressively expanding its physical locations around the country from Utah to Texas and elsewhere,” Trejo said. “Since the NSA rarely tells us its plans in advance, it is absolutely essential to make sure that states pass this legislation to cut them off at the pass. Our plan is to box them in and do everything we can to stop them.”
A number of state agencies testified as “neutral with concerns” about the bill, generally suggesting that without changes, they would be opposed. A law enforcement spokesman, plus representatives from the departments of environmental quality, housing, revenue, public safety and health services were all concerned that they would not be able to share any information with federal agencies, rendering their programs virtually out of business.
Ward worked to allay their fears by reading a portion of SB1156 which makes clear that participation in various programs was not the target of the bill’s prohibition, but only the use in criminal proceedings of electronic data and metadata obtained without a warrant.
Ward challenged a number of department heads, asking “That information you are talking about is given to you voluntarily, correct? You’re not stealing information from the people and giving it to the federal government, are you?”
SB1156 now moves on to the Senate Rules committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before being considered by the full senate.
The Tenth Amendment Center
The Tenth Amendment Center exists to promote and advance a return to a proper balance of power between federal and State governments envisioned by our founders, prescribed by the Constitution and explicitly declared in the Tenth Amendment. A national think tank based in Los Angeles, the Tenth Amendment Center works to preserve and protect the principle of strictly limited government through information, education, and activism.