Today, legislators in 16 states simultaneously announced the introduction of an array of bills to protect privacy.
In 1975, Sen. Frank Church warned that the U.S. surveillance state could eventually lead to “total tyranny.”
“If a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.”
Church’s words become more chilling when you realize he made that statement before the widespread use of the Internet, before we used email for routine communication and before the advent of cell phones. The technology at the fingertips of government agencies today makes it possible to literally track your every move.
More than 40 years later, Congress still hasn’t heeded the warning. Agencies like the NSA continue to engage in warrantless surveillance on everyday Americans with virtually no accountability. Meanwhile, Congress has only made the surveillance state stronger, handing over more and more power to agencies that spy with impunity. Even when privacy advocates successfully push back against government proposals in D.C., Congress still manages to find backdoor ways to empower the spies. Just last month Congress snuck CISA into the omnibus spending bill, creating incentives and legal protections to encourage private companies to pass our personal information along to the Feds.
But even as Congress beefs up the surveillance state and federal judges loosen restrictions on government agencies states have stepped into the gap.
A joint announcement of 16 states, along with the District of Columbia, all acting together to address a single issue represents an unprecedented step. Seldom do we see this kind of unity and determination focused on a single goal.
But privacy transcends partisan politics. This isn’t a left-right issue. It is an American issue. And the vast majority of Americans agree we have the right to remain private.
The legislators involved span the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans alike have sponsored the various bills. In many states, you will find a bipartisan coalition of legislators working together to pass privacy legislation. Organizations such as the Tenth Amendment Center and the ACLU have come together in lock-step to confront threats to our privacy.
The states involved in today’s announcement encompass nearly 100 million Americans. And the fact is this represents just the tip of the iceberg. Legislatures in many other states have already started considering privacy related bills – legislation that would restrict warrantless drone surveillance, the use of automatic license plate readers and warrantless location tracking. A bill under consideration in Michigan would even deny state material support to any federal agency engaged in mass warrantless surveillance.
Some may ask the question: how will state actions rein in federal surveillance?
Over the last several years, we have become increasingly aware that local, state and federal agencies work hand-in-hand to spy on Americans. For example, much of the funding for drones at the state and local level comes from the federal government. In return, federal agencies tap into the information gathered by state and local law enforcement through fusion centers and a federal program known as the Information Sharing Environment.
Through this arrangement, federal agencies gain access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information themselves. By placing restrictions on drone use, state and local governments limit the data available the feds can access.
In a nutshell, limiting information collected locally limits the amount of information that can ultimately find its way into federal databases. These state level bills not only provide important privacy protection at the state level, they also naturally limit the federal surveillance state.
Here we see perfect execution of the old adage, “Think globally; act locally.”
A joint announcement like the one that happened today wouldn’t be possible without a broad consensus. You don’t find Democrats and Republicans playing nicely together without broad transpartisan agreement among the people themselves. Americans do care about privacy and today they have made their voices heard.
Today millions of Americans stand ready to #TakeCTRL!