The National Security Agency has an Achilles heel, according to some anti-surveillance activists. The key vulnerability, according to members of the OffNow coalition of advocacy groups: The electronic spy agency's reliance on local utilities.
The activists would like to turn off the water to the NSA's $1.5 billion Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, and at other facilities around the country.
Dusting off the concept of "nullification," which historically referred to state attempts to block federal law, the coalition plans to push state laws to prohibit local authorities from cooperating with the NSA.
Draft state-level legislation called the Fourth Amendment Protection Act would – in theory – forbid local governments from providing services to federal agencies that collect electronic data from Americans without a personalized warrant.
No Utah lawmaker has came forward to introduce the suggested legislation yet, but at least one legislator has committed to doing so, according to Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center. He declined to identify the lawmaker before the bill is introduced.
"We are still very early in the campaign, and this is in fact a multi-step, multi-year long-term strategy," says Maharrey, whose group is part of the OffNow coalition along with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and a handful of other groups.
The campaign is looking beyond Utah, Maharrey adds.
He says a Washington state lawmaker has also committed to introducing the legislation and says state politicians in five other states have expressed interest in doing so without committing to it.
The city of Bluffdale successfully competed to supply water to the new NSA data center with an eye toward future economic development and offered discounted rates, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Nov. 30. The city is reportedly charging the NSA a rate of $2.05 for every 1,000 gallons of water, significantly less than the typical rate for high-volume consumers of $3.35 per 1,000 gallons.
KSL-TV reported in July the center will use up to 1.7 million gallons of water a day when it's fully functional, in part to cool mega-computers that collect and store data from around the world. The data-hub is encountering some problems, the Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 7, with meltdowns obliterating thousands of dollars of equipment at the million-square-foot facility.
At the federal level, the USA Freedom Act sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would significantly curtail the most controversial NSA practices made public in June by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Despite appearing poised to pass the House of Representatives, the bill has little chance of becoming law because of opposition from President Barack Obama, who supports the NSA's phone and Internet surveillance programs.
Corrected on : Clarified 12/04/13: This article was revised to clarify the nature of Bluffdale’s relationship with the new NSA facility.