Although NSA spying remains the most high-profile violation of privacy, state & federal governments work together to conduct surveillance in many ways. As a result, efforts to protect privacy at the state and local level have a significant spillover effect.
While most of these state bills focus exclusively on state and local activities, and do not apply directly federal agencies, the legislation throws a high hurdle in front of some federal programs.
Much of the funding for surveillance programs 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.
According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators… have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant.
The federal government encourages and funds a network of spy at the state and local level across the U.S., thereby gaining access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself.
In a nutshell, without state & local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. This represents a major blow to the surveillance state and a win for privacy.
NSA Resources (4th Amendment Protection Act, pdf here)
Bills to ban “material support or resources” to NSA mass surveillance programs have the potential for massive impact against the spy agency.
In 2014, California took the first step in this direction when the governor signed SB828 into law, laying the foundation for the state to turn off water, electricity and other resources to any federal agency engaged in warrantless surveillance. In summer of 2018, Michigan’s law to ban resources or material support to the federal surveillance program went into effect. (learn more here)
24-page Handbook here (pdf)
FAQs here (pdf)
Electronic Data Privacy Act (model legislation here, pdf)
Take a first step against the NSA by addressing a practical effect of federal spying.
According to documents obtained by the Reuters, the NSA passes information to police through a formerly secret DEA unit known as the Special Operations Division (SOD) and the cases “rarely involve national security issues.” The feds then encourage prosecutors to use the warrantless information to build cases without revealing its origin in a process known as “parallel construction.” Former NSA Chief Technical Director William Binney called this the country’s “greatest threat since the Civil War.”
An Oregon law prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from using ”forensic imaging” to obtain information contained in a portable electronic device except with a warrant, or by consent.
A similar law in New Hampshire prohibits law enforcement from obtaining location data from electronic devices without a warrant. And California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a sweeping privacy bill into law requiring a court ordered warrant or subpoena before law enforcement agencies can obtain or access electronic communication information or electronic device information from individuals or third-party providers.
These states followed the lead of Utah after Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB0128 in 2014. The law prohibits Utah law enforcement from obtaining phone location data without a warrant and makes any electronic data obtained by law enforcement without a warrant inadmissible in a criminal proceeding.
Stingrays (Bill from Washington State, pdf here)
Stingrays are portable devices used for cell phone surveillance. They essentially spoof cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up all communications content within range of that tower. The stingray will also locate and track any person in possession of a phone or other electronic device that tries to connect to the tower.
Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) (Bill from Minnesota, pdf here)
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), tracks the location of millions of vehicles through data provided by ALPRs operated on a state and local level. They’ve engaged in this for nearly eight years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy.
Since most federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, laws banning or even restricting ALPR use are essential. As more states pass such laws, the end result becomes more clear. No data equals no federal license plate tracking program.
Minnesota became the fourth state to place restrictions on the use of automatic license plate readers, or ALPRs, joining New Hampshire, Utah and Arkansas. These laws not only limit the use of these devices on a state and local level, but help nullify a federal license plate tracking program.
Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act (model legislation, pdf here)
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.
The federal government encourages and funds a network of drones at the state and local level across the U.S., thereby gaining access to a massive data pool on Americans without having to expend the resources to collect the information itself. By placing restrictions on drone use, state and local governments limit the data available that the feds can access.
Local Ordinance to Limit Surveillance Technology (model legislation, pdf here)
More and more local law enforcement agencies are obtaining high-tech spy gear such as stingray devices, automatic license plate readers (ALPRs), sophisticated cameras and drones.
This local ordinance takes the first step toward limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies that violate basic privacy rights and feed into a broader national surveillance state. This proposed legislation requires law enforcement agencies to get the approval from their local governing body before obtaining equipment any type of surveillance technology.