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NSA Data-Collection Targeted by State Legislation

The U.S. National Security Agency claims that the broad surveillance powers it has assumed are necessary to protect Americans against terrorist attacks. But some Tennessee lawmakers are backing legislation to prevent state-run service providers and facilities from in any way aiding in warrantless data-collection by the federal government.

The Tennessee Fourth Amendment Protection Act (HB0679/SB0782) — sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Republican Jonesborough Reps. Micah van Huss and Matthew Hill — would prevent the state or any of its subdivisions from assisting or otherwise providing “material support or resources to enable or facilitate” the gathering of an individual’s data by the NSA without a judge’s approval.

The legislation was conceived by a privacy rights advocacy group called the Off Now Coalition, whose aim is to “shut down the surveillance state.” It is designed to help protect against the NSA’s domestic data-collection program revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Tennessee legislation represents part of a broader national strategy by activists to gain regional leverage against the NSA where political efforts in Washington, D.C. have largely come up short.

y-12 billboards 1940sThe proposed legislation in the Tennessee statehouse doesn’t include a definition for “material support.” However, OffNow.org argues that because “the spy agency needs resources like water and electricity” and “cannot operate its facilities without these essential resources,” state or municipally owned utilities fall into the category. Partnerships between NSA and state higher education institutions would be blocked, as would use of federal warrantless data by state agencies.

The Multiprogram Research Facility is a part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is run by a collaboration between the University of Tennessee and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

The NSA is using the facility to produce a supercomputer capable of sifting “through enormous quantities of data – for example, all the phone numbers dialed in the United States every day,” according to James Bamford, an investigative journalist who covers national security and intelligence-gathering issues.

If passed, Tennessee’s Fourth Amendment Protection Act would also prevent law enforcement here from using any NSA-collected data in court.

Fourth Amendment Protection Acts have been introduced in 13 states. None have yet won approval.

A more narrowly written Electronic Data Privacy Act has become law in Utah and New Hampshire. The American Civil Liberties Union lauded Utah’s passage of the legislation last year.

A somewhat similarly worded Fourth Amendment Protection Act was also filed in Tennessee last session, sponsored by state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden and former Knoxville Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield. However, it died in committees.

The aim of the 2014 legislation was to resist the NSA in its attempts to collect private, personal communications between Americans, Holt said. “It is disturbing to me to think that every conversation, whether that is a telephone call, a text message or an email, may potentially…be used against me at some point by the federal government, and I am not comfortable about that,” Holt said during a hearing on the measure last spring.

Even though the legislation failed in 2014, U.S. government spying on Americans appears to be a matter of concern that crosses party lines in the Legislature.

“The NSA’s attempt to collect data on American citizens is just a complete outrage,” Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville attorney and now chairman of the House minority-party caucus, said last year. “There is no reason in this country ever for people to be collecting information that is private without a warrant.”

TFA Open Records Request Reveals Fiscal Note Process Manipulated on Open Carry

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; July 14, 2014:

Nashville, TN – After a series of ‘Open Records Requests’ the Tennessee Firearms Association has uncovered documented evidence of misleading statements and the falsifying of a contrived fiscal note. These questionable actions were carried out by members of the Haslam Administration during the 2014 legislative session in an attempt to kill a pro-gun bill.

“This was apparently a deliberate ploy to kill legislation that the Haslam Administration opposed by misrepresenting the effect of the bill to the legislators,” noted John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Underhanded tactics such as this are unacceptable and Governor Haslam owes the citizens of Tennessee an explanation.”

The fiscal note fiasco started earlier this year when Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Micah Van Huss sponsored legislation to allow the open carry of handguns without a permit. The bill passed the Senate 25-2 (SB2424), despite behind the scenes opposition from the Haslam Administration. As the open carry bill moved through the House after passing in the Senate, it was delayed and then voted down in a Finance Sub-Committee after having a false fiscal note attached. The full House of Representative never considered the bill because of the shenanigans involving the false fiscal note in House Finance.

The fiscal note, added by the Administration, claimed that the open carry bill would cost the state government $100,000 by requiring that the word “concealed” be added to every valid handgun permit in Tennessee. However, the bill itself contained no such requirement. When pressed, the Department of Safety responded that departmental policy required adding the word “concealed” to the permits. However, when a request was made for the specific policy, the Department of Safety admitted that no such policy actually existed.

Almost 3,000 pages of state documents obtained by the Tennessee Firearms Association through the Open Records Requests reveal that a Haslam administration official, Bill Hedge, citing the non-existent “departmental policy” on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Safety, estimated that it would cost the State $100,000 to add the word “concealed” when handgun permits are printed. The administration’s estimate caused a “fiscal note” to be placed on the legislation and forced it to be rerouted to the House Finance Committee which is under the control of Rep. Charles Sargent.

After a legislative amendment (HA1127) was introduced to prohibit the Administration’s proposal to add the word “concealed” on each permit, Mr. Hedge defiantly declared in an April 8, 2014, e-mail that:

“Even though the amendment removed the requirement, the department by policy will in fact continue the designation of ‘Concealed’ on the Handgun Carry Permit….I am certifying that the department will in fact incur the (costs) to reflect the ‘concealed’ provision….”

Further, when pressed concerning which department policy required such a change, the Department of Safety admitted that it had misrepresented that there was an existing departmental policy as reflecting in an e-mail from Bill Hedge dated April 14, 2014:

“Currently, a written policy concerning information contained on the permit, including the ‘title’ of the document, does not exist.”

More significantly, the Open Records Requests revealed that the Department of Safety is under a multi-million dollar contract with a third party, L-1 Credentialing, Inc., to design and print the handgun permits along with other similar official state documents. That contract requires the third party to make changes in the design and format of the permits at no additional charge to state government. Department of Safety documents do not reference this contract in discussing the $100,000 estimate by Hedge nor do they detail why it would cost $100,000 to print the word “concealed” on the handgun permits even after the proposed legislation it was made clear by the sponsors that the legislation did not alter the handgun permits or convert them into concealed carry permits. The documents also reveal that the Haslam Administration was actively fighting the bill, that Department of Safety officials were working to stop the bill by creating estimates of printing costs, and that certain legislators were involved to create a fiscal note ensuring that the bill was rerouted to the House Finance Committee.

After the false Administration estimate was attached to the bill as a fiscal note, House rules required that the bill be considered by Charles Sargent’s Finance Committee because it had a (falsely) estimated cost to state government. Bill Gibbons, Commissioner of the Department of Safety, testified under oath that the legislation would add a concealment requirement to Tennessee’s handgun permits and that it would cost approximately $100,000 to start printing the word “concealed” on the handgun permits. The documents obtained in response to the Open Records Requests suggest that Commissioner Gibbons’ sworn testimony to the House Finance subcommittee was false in both respects. Mr. Gibbons’ testimony can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_jeeCqS-VU

Legislative records indicate that the House Finance subcommittee knew that Gibbons’ testimony was false or misleading because the chairman announced just prior to the committee vote that they would assume a zero fiscal impact to the state for purposes of their votes on the legislation. Then, 10 members of the House Finance committee refused to allow the legislation to be moved forward thus prohibiting it from consideration by all members of the House of Representatives.

A complete and detailed write up, including source documents, will be available on the TFA web site soon: http://www.tennesseefirearms.org/news/item/10-fiscal-note-fiasco

The Tennessee Firearms Association was founded in 1995 and formed to defend the right to keep and bear arms in Tennessee. The TFA is Tennessee’s only no-compromise gun group.