The Journey of 1000 Miles Begins with a Single Step

This month, the Utah State Records Committee ruled that the City of Bluffdale must release water records pertaining to the massive NSA data center located there.

Salt Lake City Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle pursued the information, and his success shows how a series of small, seemingly insignificant actions can lead to a major victory.

The committee voted unanimously to require the city to make details of the NSA’s water use public last week.

“We felt the law was on our side,” Carlisle told KUTV News. “We also felt there was a public interest in knowing how much water the NSA is using in Utah, so Utahns are informed about the role of the NSA in their state.”

The city of Bluffdale and the NSA were both initially unwilling to give up the details about their arrangement. Water usage estimates range between 1.2 and 1.7 million gallons of water per day, but the NSA was very ambiguous regarding the specific figure, insisting it was a matter of “national security.”

Carlisle submitted a letter to the Utah State Records Committee requesting information about the NSA’s water use. In it, he talked about the tedious process he underwent to obtain the records from obstinate city officials. He also complained of excessive fees charged by the city of Bluffdale during his request. Carlisle pointed out that the water records do not belong to the NSA, and instead belong to the public. The committee ultimately forced Bluffdale to give up the records and reduce the fees.

This decision represents a huge win for the efforts to thwart NSA spying at the state and local level. The NSA’s Bluffdale center sits smack in the middle of a desert, and it pays a discounted rate for water. That fact will not sit well with Utahns keenly aware of their limited water resources.

Utah Rep. Marc Roberts officially introduced the 4th Amendment Protection Act this year to prohibit material support to the NSA for its unconstitutional spying. The legislation would begin the process of ending the NSA’s sweetheart deal with the city and cut it off from the resources it desperately needs to conduct its illegal spying operation. The legislative proposal was referred to an interim study committee, and the Utah House will likely consider it next session after public hearings.

And now, the exact nature of the NSA’s water use will be part of the discussion.  Public disclosure of NSA water use may well serve as the impetus for the state legislature to take bold action against the NSA.

The victory demonstrates just how much impact the OffNow Campaign can and will have. Many tend to evaluate efforts only on the big wins – in the short term. Some will call the entire effort a failure if at least one state doesn’t pass a Fourth Amendment Protection Act this legislative session.

But the campaign has already made significant progress, even if nothing else develops this session. Consider the small steps that led to the Utah State Records Committee decision.

First there were countless hours of research that identified how the NSA depends on state support. Then there was the work to draft the model legislation. We spent hours cobbling together a coalition, developing the website, launching a petition at, and creating the Turn it Off video. Each one of these small steps built on the last and ultimately drove an honest reporter to want to know more.

None of this would have happened if a few people hadn’t decided to take action.

The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.

And the march will continue to gather momentum.

As the public receives more accurate information about the NSA, it will undoubtedly demand more ways to fight back against the spy agency. The OffNow coalition has a plan which empowers local activists to circumvent Washington D.C. and take matters into their own hands. This is the path to “reform” and stopping the NSA’s unconstitutional behavior.

Thanks to brave reporters like Nate Carlisle, our campaign now has a greater chance of protecting the 4th Amendment against federal violations.

One step at a time.

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