On the heels of the fifth anniversary of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosure of classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents to journalists, one state legislature has recently taken steps to hold the government agency accountable for its warrantless surveillance programs by making it illegal for state and local governments, including law enforcement and public utilities, to support the NSA’s warrantless spying on American citizens.
According to Michigan’s Fourth Amendment Rights Protection Act, also known as Public Act 71 of 2018, state and local governments can only assist or provide support to the federal government’s collection of data if there is a search warrant or the informed consent of the targeted party. The bill is set to take effect in just a few weeks on June 17th.
While the NSA has no publicly disclosed facility in the state, the bill’s proponents have asserted that it sends a clear message to the federal government regarding the lack of popularity for its warrantless wiretapping of millions of Americans in violation of the legal protections granted to them by the Constitution.
“It hangs up a sign on Michigan’s door saying, ‘No violation of the Fourth Amendment, look elsewhere’,” said Republican state Rep. Martin Howrylak, the bill’s author, according to the Washington Examiner. “Democrats as well as Republicans would certainly stand very strong in our position on what this law means.”
“This new law guarantees no state resources will be used to help the federal government execute mass warrantless surveillance programs that violate the Fourth Amendment protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution,” Howrylak said soon after the bill was first passed earlier this year in March.
“Michigan will not assist the federal government with any data collection unless it is consistent with the constitution,” he added.
The Michigan law seeking to condemn the NSA’s most controversial program is not the first of its kind. However, it is the first to have been passed successfully without having been subsequently watered down. For instance, in 2014, state lawmakers in Maryland sought to shut off power and water to NSA headquarters but many of its sponsors dropped their support of the bill after a powerful political backlash. A similar bill was floated in Utah’s state legislature at the same time, but went nowhere after it was rejected by the state’s governor.
“It hangs up a sign on Michigan’s door saying, ‘No violation of the Fourth Amendment, look elsewhere.'”
The only state to have passed a bill similar to Michigan’s is California, which passed the Fourth Amendment Protection Act in 2014. However, that piece of legislation protects the Fourth Amendment in name only as it bans local assistance “in response to a request from a federal agency” and “if the state has actual knowledge that the request constitutes an illegal or unconstitutional collection.”
Despite the efforts being made by state legislatures to restore the Fourth Amendment, such efforts have been largely absent at the national level in recent years. Earlier this year, in January, Congress voted to extend the government’s warrantless surveillance of American citizens for another six years. However, Congress’ reauthorization of the program was more than a mere extension of the program as it actually helped expand the NSA’s authority by codifying some of the more controversial aspects of the program, suggesting that interest in protecting and restoring the Constitution is largely found at the state and local levels of government.