Thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, it is now widely known that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been trampling on the privacy of not only Americans, but pretty much everyone on the planet via mass surveillance for who knows how long.
And the things they know about us are disturbing: the agency tracks everything we do online (including intimate, highly personal things), collects our phone records, and engages in "pre-crime surveillance of citizens."
Former NSA technical leader and whistleblower William Binney says, "There have been at least 15-20 trillion constitutional violations" by the NSA.
Activists have filed lawsuits in an attempt to limit or stop the NSA from stomping all over our rights.
But even the strongest and largest of villains inevitably have a weak spot – an Achilles' Heel – and the surveillance state is no exception.
OffNow.org has discovered a way to fight back and hit 'em where it hurts.
The NSA, like everyone else, relies on resources like water and electricity – resources that are usually supplied by state and local governments.
For example, the NSA storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah, will reportedly use up to 1.7 million gallons of water every single day when fully operational, according to OffNow.
The city holds the contract to supply that water…but it doesn't have to. Nothing requires state or local governments to provide those services.
Under the legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine, the Supreme Court has consistently held that the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce federal acts or programs. It rests primarily on four Supreme Court cases: Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), New York v. US (1992), Printz v. US (1997) and National Federation of Businesses v. Sebelius (2012).
Printz serves the cornerstone.
"The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program…such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty."
The Federal government is notorious for being unable (or unwilling) to regulate itself or make reforms. OffNow seeks to work at the state level to make it impossible for the NSA and other agencies that illegally spy on us to run their facilities.
OffNow's website says
We intend to pull the rug out from under them, box them in and shut them down.
As a legal matter, contracts for water, electricity and other resources and services are simply voluntary agreements made between the federal government (or its agents) and the state or local government. States legitimately can and should decide whether to honor the request based on the state's own set of priorities.
Of course, the federal government can bring in its own resources and supplies, but history shows they would likely struggle to do so.
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Just two weeks into this year's legislative season, and with many legislatures not even in session yet, legislators in four states have already introduced bills to ban material support or resources to any federal agency engaged in warrantless spying.
These bills not only support efforts to turn off NSA's water in Utah, but would also have practical effects on federal surveillance programs if passed.
Legislators in South Carolina, Missouri, Alaska and Indiana have all filed versions of the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, and representatives in seven other states have committed to introduce similar bills this year. Sources close to OffNow suggest even more bills will get introduced before the legislative season ends in spring.
"To have four bills already filed, and commitments from seven more legislators – on top of having a bill in Utah set to move forward that would set the stage to turn of the water at the Bluffdale data center – this is really beyond our expectations this early in the session," OffNow executive director Mike Maharrey said. "I think Americans are sick of being spied on, and they are sick of empty reform talk by D.C. politicians. I think this movement at the state level is indicative of the American people saying, 'Fine! If you can't get things fixed in Washington, we'll fix it through our states.'"