Local Activist Taking on Surveillance in Illinois

By IL Tenthers

Editor’s note: State and local activism are at the heart of the Tenth Amendment Center’s work. The following outlines the efforts of a TAC activist working on two specific issues in Illinois.

I founded the IL Tenthers in 2019. Our focus is on protecting privacy rights and reforming civil asset forfeiture in Illinois. While we have not yet had our model legislation introduced, we have been in contact with our district officials and over 30 legislators in the region.

The process of coalition-building has been a slow one, but we recognize that people will listen only when you talk to them in terms they can understand. In other words, breaking down an issue like surveillance and explaining why it is so dangerous serves to wake others up to the challenges we face.

So far, we have generated interest among some groups in Illinois and have received guidance from the Tenth Amendment Center and The Institute for Justice.

Having a realistic goal is important. Getting model legislation to state legislators, meeting with them and generating support for the bills make it an actionable strategy. For activism to work, it takes consistent involvement and follow-up. It is also important to not do it alone; build a network of contacts that you can rely on and work towards a common solution. Having allies will be a big part of the success of your endeavors. Finding even just a few groups that you can work with will make an impact because the message has a farther reach. Coalitions take form in endorsements from groups, petitions, declarations and legislator outreach. Every change that happens starts with a small group that takes action. Remember that the Sons of Liberty was a small group that manifested distrust of government power into the fight for independence.

Surveillance is about liberty and sovereignty. We notice that surveillance is being normalized to the point that you no longer expect a sense of privacy. We must not accept surveillance as an unchanging fact of life. I’m fighting surveillance for two reasons: to learn more about it and to restrict its use through local oversight.

Every American has the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects. We’ve been sold a bill of goods – convinced that to be safe we need to be less free.

But are we any safer with surveillance than without?

No data supports that premise. It is really about control and coercion. Police have been turned into domestic spy agencies.

What can we do about it?

State noncompliance is the way forward. This strategy is already being effectively used by many states and cities. This article is based on a talk I gave to the Chicago Libertarian Party in April of this year.


We recognize that a successful strategy continues after step one, with each step building upon the last. When we get model legislation introduced, there is always room to improve it. Who will enforce it? Only we can enforce the contract of the constitution. Will the law enforcement and intelligence agencies give us this incredible surveillance power willingly?

No chance.

But I think I see a way out.

In Illinois, we need to resist, refuse to comply and nullify surveillance and civil asset forfeiture. Starting with a resolution or a referendum at the county level can build the foundation to generate more support at the state level with model legislation. Resolutions are also important to outline the principles we stand for.

Coalition building or true grassroots activism means agreeing on something and working towards a common solution, together. Even if we disagree on other things, we can work together toward a common goal. Party lines and different philosophies don’t matter you focus on a single issue. The crux of activism is getting people involved and tailoring your information to the audience you are talking to. The more groups that work together the better chance it has of moving forward.

We recommend building a network of contacts to send out alerts, putting on talks and attending community events to generate awareness. As a starting point, gain soft endorsements from groups that would be concerned if they knew of the issue. Reach out to other district legislators to ask them if they would introduce the model legislation to protect your liberties. Follow up often and make phone calls, try to arrange a meeting over tea and speak to them in person. We are also concerned that many Americans are willing to trade liberty for security. Here is how you can help: follow the Tenth Amendment Center for state nullification efforts, join our email list for alerts, reach out to the ACLU, visit the Electronic Frontier Alliance to find groups in your area and visit our website for detailed activist instructions.

“The constitution does not enforce itself and the federal government will not limit itself. Something outside the system has to do the limiting. In the American system, the people have the ultimate authority. As such, we need to focus the power of state and local governments to stop federal overreach. “

“States need to take steps to place restrictions on the use of surveillance before it is used by law enforcement, instead of navigating a complex process of creating oversight after its secret deployment and use. Legislators and the community don’t know what surveillance the police are using because there is little accountability and surveillance happens in secret. Non-disclosure agreements signed by law enforcement for the use of surveillance helps keep these programs hidden. Their ability to access high technology surveillance equipment without local oversight or approval is bound to be abused. Government grants and asset forfeitures fund the surveillance state. Incentives matter.”

Months ago, I spoke to a senior drafting attorney for the Illinois state Senate Democrats who received my legislative request. We talked several times and I presented my supporting information. Essentially, he wanted me to prove that the Illinois police were using warrantless information from the NSA and explain why that is wrong. This person has no problem with surveillance and says that the federal government is supreme, always. Effectively, the attorney served to roadblock my efforts saying that he couldn’t ask my legislator to introduce a bill unless I can prove what harm has been done. I take it that the attorney does not want to have a genuine discussion and I have decided to work around him. He asked me some questions I want to share, along with my answers.

The Illinois police will say they aren’t getting information from the NSA

“Police oppose any restrictions on surveillance, militarization or asset forfeiture. They always say the same things, if we reveal our surveillance capabilities we won’t be able to keep the public safe and officers will be endangered. We need to build the fences now to ensure law enforcement knows the lines not to cross. We know that through information sharing data gathered locally ends up in federal databases and vice versa.”

If the bill won’t change anything why introduce it?

“This question arises from the news that section 215 PATRIOT expires this year and Trump may not renew it. Never mind that the FREEDOM ACT replaced 215 in 2015 and that these are small parts of surveillance. Let’s pretend the NSA is not sharing information with Illinois police, federal funding and asset forfeiture is not supplying the resources for surveillance equipment, license plate readers, facial recognition, drones and stingrays are not being used by IL police or being shared by intelligence agencies with them. Even if that is true, it doesn’t mean they can’t start tomorrow. We need to take precautions for the future. I lock my door at night not because I think somebody is going to break in but in case somebody tries to.”

Why do I feel it is necessary to introduce the bill?

“Illinois passed SB2343 limiting the use of stingray cell phone data collection, SB2808 freedom from location surveillance act, SB1587 freedom from drone surveillance act. Why was it necessary to introduce the strongest bill limiting stingrays in the country if there was nothing wrong with surveillance? Why did a bipartisan group of legislators in Illinois work together to advance these privacy rights protections if nothing was wrong? The surveillance technology is ahead of the law, and we need to catch up. Right now, the status quo is that IL police can work with the federal government on whatever it wants. It’s important to create parameters so it knows which lines not to cross. In Kentucky, the Lexington Police Department were ordered to disclose an open records request on the use of cameras in a city park by the Attorney General after first denying the request. They sued Mike Maharrey rather than disclose their surveillance technologies. What do they have to hide?”

The 4th Amendment Protection Act prohibits state cooperation with federal surveillance, such that state and local law enforcement would not be able to participate in task forces on warrantless surveillance. It cuts off the use of warrantless surveillance in state court. In other words, we know the intelligence agencies are conducting warrantless surveillance, and we need a state policy in place to ensure our state officers are not violating our civil liberties. We know the federal government is conducting warrantless surveillance and the state shouldn’t have to help (nor is it required to under the Anti Commandeering Doctrine). The Electronic Data Privacy Act affects what state and local police can do by establishing warrant requirements to procure electronic data from service providers- cell phone metadata. We want to establish the same warrant requirements for persons, houses, papers and effects in the 4th Amendment to access electronic metadata. The privacy localism ordinance would require local police to have to get approval before getting surveillance gear.

Even if you are for surveillance, how far does it go? Why shouldn’t we weigh the benefits against the risks? In truth, to be free we must earn our liberty and fight to keep it. Governments are in the business of controlling people, it would be prudent for us to be in the business of fighting for our liberty, however we can.

Founder of IL Tenthers working on privacy rights protections in Illinois

Advocating declarations not petitions. Its important to have allies, but more important to have actionable goals.

Place one foot in front of the other and never lose sight of your principles. Liberty is never given it is earned, please contact me with ideas or debate.


This article was sourced from The Tenth Amendment Center.

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