Federal agencies could find it harder to spy on Californians if a new bill proposed this legislative session becomes law.
State Senators Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, introduced legislation on Monday that would ban state agencies, officials and corporations that provide services to the state from supporting or assisting the federal government to spy or collect data on Californians, unless the government first obtains a warrant. The lawmakers say that they introduced Senate Bill 828 following “the repeated federal admissions of widespread spying on innocent American citizens.”
“The National Security Agency’s massive level of spying and indiscriminate collecting of phone and electronic data on all Americans, including more than 38 million Californians, is a direct threat to our liberty and freedom,” Lieu said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction. “Let’s be clear: when the government deliberately violates the Constitution on a mass basis, it poses a clear and present danger to our liberties.”
The bill, which is introduced as an urgency measure, requires two-thirds support in both houses of the Legislature. With Anderson, a prominent conservative Republican as a co-author, it is likely to pick up additional support.
“I support this bill because I support the Constitution, our Fourth Amendment rights and our freedoms to live in the United States of America,” Anderson said.
Response to Snowden revelations
Lieu’s legislation comes in response to last summer’s revelations by former defense contractor and government whistleblower Edward Snowden that the NSA has been collecting phone data on millions of Americans for years. In December, a federal judge ruled that the “almost-Orwellian” bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is likely unconstitutional.
“The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,” Judge Richard Leon wrote in his December ruling.
Later in the month, another federal judge, District Judge William H. Pauley III, ruled in favor of the program, describing it as a key tool in the war on terrorism. That ruling has buoyed the argument on Capitol Hill that such widespread warrantless surveillance is in the interest of national security.
“I would hope that Judge Pauley’s opinion will lessen at least some of the adulation for Edward Snowden as well as the rabid anti-NSA hysteria which has become so pervasive,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
Lieu’s military service brings credibility on national security
Supporters of warrantless government surveillance programs, such as King, will have a challenging time lecturing Lieu about national security. That’s because Lieu is a decorated member of the armed services. Last year, while on the Legislature’s spring break, the lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves was awarded with the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal.
Lieu, who understands national security, recognizes that an unchecked federal government poses a threat to Americans.
“I agree with the NSA that the world is a dangerous place,” Lieu said. “That is why our founders enacted the Bill of Rights. They understood the grave dangers of an out-of-control federal government.”
Tech firms based in California
The bill is expected to have national implications as the biggest names in technology are largely based in California. Silicon Valley-based technology firms could embrace Lieu’s bill in a bid to repair their image after many of them have been accused of being complicit in government surveillance.
According to the Guardian, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook cooperated with the NSA spying and were paid millions of dollars for costs incurred from the Prism surveillance program.
State resources shouldn’t be used for indiscriminate spying
Some legal experts question whether the bill could survive a challenge from the federal government.
“It is no different from a state saying it would not help the federal government carry out an order to desegregate schools,” Erwin Chemerinsky told the Daily Breeze; he’s the dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine and shares Lieu’s concerns on NSA surveillance,”States cannot interfere with or impede the achievement of a federal objective.”
Lieu says that it comes down to a question of whether state resources should be used on unconstitutional practices.
“State-funded public resources should not be going toward aiding the NSA or any other federal agency from indiscriminate spying on its own citizens and gathering electronic or metadata that violates the Fourth Amendment,” Lieu said.
A national security expert told UT San Diego columnist Steven Greenhut that, even if the legislation is blocked in federal court, it can have a symbolic impact. Last year, Lieu introduced Senate Resolution 16, a measure that urged Congress to stop its unconstitutional practices.
“Even if the bill is in a sense symbolic, it can have a real effect,” Ivan Eland, a national security expert with the Oakland-based Independent Institute, told the UT San Diego.
Cross-posted at CalWatchDog.