Legislators in Maryland want to turn the lights out on the NSA — literally. A bill introduced last Thursday to its House of Delegates would bar state agencies, utilities, and pretty much anything that receives state funds from providing assistance to federal agencies that collect electronic data or metadata without a specific warrant to do so. Namely, the delegates are thinking of the National Security Agency, which is headquartered just outside their state's capital.
"We owe an allegiance to the Constitution."
The legislation is nearly identical to bills introduced elsewhere across the country, such as California, and would result in state water and electrical utilities being unable to serve the NSA — a major headache, if there ever was one. "It does pretty much say we're going to cut off water and electricity to the NSA," Maryland Delegate Mike Smigiel, the bill's primary sponsor, tells The Verge. Though cutting off water and electricity would have the most immediate impact, the legislation would also stop the NSA from using state universities for research, make any evidence the NSA gathers inadmissible in state courts, and effectively fire any state employee who helps the NSA.
Smigiel, chair of the Tea Party caucus in Maryland's House, introduced the legislation, known as the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, along with seven other Republican sponsors. At a minimum, their goal is to get legislators discussing the federal government's accountability. "I'm hoping it is a reminder to all elected officials that we don't owe an allegiance to the federal government, we owe an allegiance to the Constitution," Smigiel says. "We don't need people in office who are going to help the federal government violate our constitutional rights."
Though similar legislation has been introduced and discussed in other states, it has a particular importance in Maryland thanks to the presence of the NSA's headquarters. "Clearly you could not use this mechanism from a state level if you were in Iowa talking about how you wanted to stop the NSA," Smigiel says. "You wouldn't be able to threaten what we can do here physically." The NSA both needs water and electricity in bulk to operate its computers. According to The Washington Post, an upcoming NSA data center in Maryland will use as much as 5 million gallons of water per day when it opens in 2016.
The campaign to shut off the NSA's water and electricity actually stems from the Tenth Amendment Center, which drafted model legislation on which Maryland's proposal is based. In particular, the Tenth Amendment Center is also hoping to see the NSA's water supply turned off in Utah, where the agency operates another large data center. Though it's a roundabout way of dealing with the NSA and unlikely to be a widely supported measure, Smigiel thinks it's fitting: "I think it was Mark Twain who said, 'Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.'"