I see innumerable news articles detailing the latest revelations from Edward Snowden, and a blizzard of pieces calling for leniency or a pardon for the world’s most famous whistleblower – but in the comments sections, including of my own columns on the subject, I find expressions of seemingly hopeless despair: "Yes, but what can we do about it?"
The answer: take action at the local level. Use as a model the efforts of California libertarian activists who have lobbied state Senators Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) to introduce the Fourth Amendment Protection Act forbidding any state support to the National Security Agency.
"I agree with the NSA that the world is a dangerous place,” says Lieu, “That is why our founders enacted the Bill of Rights. They understood the grave dangers of an out-of-control federal government."
The OffNow Coalition has developed model legislation, and the California bill has taken that template, crafting a bill – SB 828 – that would prohibit the state or any of its subdivisions from "providing material support, participation or assistance in any form to a federal agency that claims the power, by virtue of any federal law, rule, regulation or order, to collect electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place and thing to be searched or seized."
But, you say, this is a federal question, and the bill’s passage would only be a symbolic protest, putting the state on record on the issue but having no practical effect – and you’d be wrong. The California bill, if passed, would:
1) Prevent state, county, and city agencies from giving any material support to the NSA, including water and electricity. In localities where water and electricity distribution systems are state-owned, the legislation would prevent county, state, and local authorities from servicing NSA facilities, such as the giant Utah NSA compound.
2) Make "evidence" obtained by the NSA without a warrant and shared with law enforcement inadmissible in state court. Criminal cases have already shown up where NSA intercepts were a major part of the evidence: this would put an end to that abuse and prevent the further corruption of our legal system.
3) Prohibit state universities from collaborating with the NSA by providing research facilities or venues for recruiting. This is extremely important: right now, the NSA is picking the brains of our best and brightest in order to build a bigger, better Orwellian police state – surely something our very active libertarian student movement (hello, YAL!) will no doubt be very interested in pursuing. Six state-affiliated California colleges have been designated NSA "Centers of Academic Excellence": California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California State University, Sacramento, California State University, San Bernardino, University of California at Davis, University of California, Irvine, and the University of Southern California. Here’s the nationwide list of schools where Big Brother is "mentoring" academics and their students. Obviously some radical de-mentoring is going to have to take place before we can take back our old republic!
Right now, as far as anyone knows, the NSA has no facilities in California, but in view of their rapid expansion – with a new and humongous facility in Utah, and also one in Texas – and the Golden State’s hi-tech industry already a big presence, passage of this bill would place a considerable roadblock in the way of the NSA’s efforts to construct a modern day Panopticon.
And it’s not just California: Arizona is considering a similar bill. Missouri and Kansas have bills in the hopper that would put restrictions on the admissibility in court of evidence obtained by NSA spies. Mike Maharrey, communications director of the Tenth Amendment Center – which is coordinating the campaign nationwide – says at least four other states will take up similar legislation in the first months of 2014.
Can we up that number to fourteen – or twenty-four? Sure we can!
Although Rep. Justin Amash nearly succeeded in passing his bill defunding NSA spying, efforts to rein in the NSA at the national level will meet limited success, at first– simply because Washington, D.C. is enemy territory. If you live and work in DC, chances are you’re a government employee or a contractor dependent on government largesse: the city’s culture, as a result, is profoundly authoritarian, and Congress is the epicenter of that (sick) culture.
Our strategy, then, must be similar to the old Maoist concept of "people’s war": occupy the countryside and surround the cities, drawing in the enemy and draining their resources until we can mobilize enough support to move in on the rotten urban core.
I wrote about this localist strategy here, back in the summer, but hadn’t realized until now that some people were acting on it (not that I originated the idea, or that anyone was acting at my direction).
A broad popular movement is building in the country that sees overweening government as the greatest threat to our liberty, our prosperity, and our happiness, and it’s not just a libertarian thing. As Tenth Amendment Center activist Maharrey puts it:
"This crosses party lines. Left, right and even the generally apathetic are outraged that their government is spying on them day in and day out," he said. "Violations of our basic civil liberties impacts us all – Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. For all of our political bickering, Americans rally around certain core principles enshrined in our Constitution. It’s fitting that Lieu and Anderson are standing together to defend these values."
Campus activists have a special role to play: because the battle against the NSA is all about delegitimizing it, efforts to delink the agency from "respectable" academic institutions are key. Students will naturally be in the forefront of this fight, and luckily we have a strong libertarian student movement in Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), with over 500 active college and high school chapters, and Students for Liberty (SFL), an educational group with affiliates all over the world.
So please, commenters, don’t ask me "what can I do?" You can go here, download the model legislation, take it to your local state representatives, and don’t stop until you get one of them to introduce a bill restricting NSA activities in your state and/or locality. Then start campaigning for it like your life depends on it – because it does.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.