In a post-9/11 world, where concerns were ever present about the threats of terrorism seemed all too real, Utah policy makers were quick to welcome projects that would help protect the homeland. One such project, the Utah Data Center, more commonly known as the NSA Data Center, was publicly welcomed by all but the most staunch privacy advocates. When we consider the additional fact that the state and nation were in the heart of a recession, and that a $1.5 billion project would inject new money into the state when it was desperately needed, it is easy to see why policymakers didn’t put up much of a fight when the NSA decided to set up shop at Camp Williams at the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley.
Now that the hysteria is starting to die down, politicians are singing a different tune, realizing that the data center was not the job creator it was billed as. Throw in a general distrust of the federal government, and it becomes obvious why anti-NSA Data Center legislation is gaining steam on Capitol Hill.
Last year, Senator Jerry Stevenson (Republican – Layton) proposed and passed contentious legislation that formalized tax subsides that were previously agreed upon during negotiations, but were never actually turned into law. With public opinion turning, lawmakers were hesitant to sign on to the deal, but ultimately did.
Now that another year has passed, and with public opinion continuing to turn against the NSA Data Center, Representative Marc Roberts (Republican – Santaquin) is looking to take the legs out of the data center with HB 150 – Prohibition on Electronic Data Collection Assistance.
The bill, if successful, would make it illegal for any state or local official to support or assist with any bulk federal data collection. No government employee, city, county, or the state itself could assist the federal government in its attempts to collect bulk amounts of data. Furthermore, if a government does assist the data center, the bill would authorize the state to pull any and all state funds that are currently supporting the institution.
Theoretically, this would mean that the state would pull all funds for road maintenance, schools, public assistance, national guard assistance…everything for Salt Lake County if the county provides any support of the NSA Data Center in any way. If only Bluffdale continues to to hold the line, all state services would be shut off in the 10 square mile city, creating a sort of governmental no man’s land, where the city would have to entirely support its activities without the assistance of the state.
As you can imagine, this would be a very strong deterrent to supporting the NSA Data Center.
But the problem is that, though the bill states that it is illegal to support the data center, it doesn’t specify what that actually means. Generally, cutting off of services is interpreted as cutting off municipal water and power to the center, but the bill does not specify this, opting instead to say “Notwithstanding any law, regulation, rule, or order to the contrary, [no one may] provide material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency;” – something that could cause some severe legal and moral challenges for the state.
If a fire breaks out at the data center, could city and county resources be deployed? If a crime is committed at the data center, can police respond? Do roads that support other homes, businesses, and industry need to blockaded in order to prevent the few data center employees to even get to work? Can school districts provide schooling to the children of data center employees? Can data center employees be able to access water, garbage, and power service? It could be argued that all of these things provide support to the NSA Data Center, either directly or indirectly, and would, therefore, be a crime. Yes, there may be laws allowing such exceptions, but during heat of the moment decisions, the right call may not be made and long, protracted lawsuits would soon follow.
From a grander scale, we must consider how Machiavellian this approach truly is. Is the state so opposed to the data center that it is willing to severely punish the 7,500 residents of Bluffdale? Or the one million residents of Salt Lake County based on the decisions of some government employees? If so, we as citizens should strongly look at the people running our state government.
If the state truly does want to push out the NSA Data Center, HB 150 is not the proper route take from any perspective. This legislation isn’t even half baked, the ingredients are still at the store…two counties over…and the store is on fire.
To contact Representative Roberts, click here or call 801-210-0155.
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