YAKIMA — A sweeping bill by a local lawmaker aims to undercut controversial surveillance efforts by the National Security Administration.
House Bill 2272, cosponsored by Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, would prohibit state and local agencies from providing any support to NSA efforts at collecting electronic communications without a specific search warrant. It would also punish private companies that provide services to the NSA, such as selling or servicing software or supercomputers, by denying the companies state contracts.
Starting in the 1970s, the NSA operated a secretive listening post at the Army’s Yakima Training Center facility, which lies within Taylor’s 15th Legislative District.
Congressional officials said last year the facility was slated for closure as part of efforts to reorganize the agency, but its operational status is unclear. The NSA in Fort Meade, Md., did not respond to interview requests for this story.
Last spring, an NSA expert said that the closure is probably because the technology there is out of date compared to current digital data collection efforts.
According to military documents, the Kittitas County Public Utility District provides some of the electricity to the Training Center, but under this legislation, it would become illegal for the PUD to supply the NSA facility. PacifiCorp also provides power to the Training Center, and if it directly supplied the NSA facility, it would then be ineligible to sell power to the state.
But while Taylor has concerns about the Yakima Training Center facility, he said the bill is really intended to target the bigger issue of NSA spying on civilians without search warrants.
“Absolutely this covers the Yakima Training Center, but the reality is that’s just one aspect of the data collection that is going on,” said Taylor. This bill “prohibits public services being used for unwarranted data collection.”
Taylor said it is challenging keeping abreast of all the technology the government could be using to collect electronic data — from cellphone records to social media — so he designed the bill to address the underlying concern about federal agencies collecting data without a search warrant, no matter what tools are used. The bill does not directly name the NSA.
The bill has been dubbed the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, because that’s the constitutional amendment intended to provide protection against unreasonable search and seizure and requires probable cause for search warrants.
Similar bills to ban state support for controversial NSA activities have been introduced in six other states, including California, Indiana and Tennessee.
All the bills appear to draw on model legislation from OffNow.org, which argues that states can refuse to supply services from public utilities, including electricity, water and sewer; ban state and local law enforcement from using information collected without a warrant by the NSA; limit NSA partnerships with public universities; and punish corporations that work with the NSA by preventing them from doing business with the state.
The OffNow coalition includes groups from the political right and left and is organized by the Tenth Amendment Center, a think tank and political activist group focused on limiting government to the powers given in the Constitution. The center’s communications director, Mike Maharrey, said that the effort started last summer with the revelations about the NSA activities.
In June, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents to journalists, detailing the agency’s global surveillance system and the practice of collecting electronic communication data on everyone from suspected terrorists to foreign leaders to ordinary Americans.
“When we saw the extent of the overreach the NSA is involved in, we wanted to know what can we do at the state or local level?” Maharrey said. “If the NSA insists on violating the constitution, the state of Washington doesn’t have to help.”
The concept has drawn support from the public — an online petition supporting the bill has over 19,500 signatures — and both sides of the political spectrum. In Washington, the bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Bothell.
“Freedom and liberty are not partisan issues, these are issues that we all care about,” Taylor said. “Here’s a Democrat from Puget Sound and a Republican from Central Washington who think this is something that needs to be discussed.”
Taylor added that his primary goal with the legislation was to start a conversation about how the state can protect citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.
“This is our opportunity, if the federal government is not going to act to safeguard the rights of our citizens, we will,” Taylor said.
“If this isn’t the answer, I’m willing to hear other solutions.”
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but no hearings have been scheduled at this point. Taylor said that it’s tough to get a hearing because it’s a short, busy legislative session, but he hopes the bill will get a hearing this year.