On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Maine Fourth Amendment Protection Act, a bill introduced by freshman Senator Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin).
The bill’s purpose is to withhold material support or other assistance to a federal agency, specifically the National Security Administration, in its efforts “in the collection or use of a person’s electronic data or metadata” without informed consent, a warrant, or a legally recognized exemption.
In the 126th Legislature, lawmakers passed several bills that would protect Mainers’ privacy. LD 1377 prevented state agencies from obtaining cell phone records without a warrant, and LD 415, which the legislature passed over the governor’s veto, prevented state agencies from collecting GPS data from phones without a warrant.
The bills were meant as a countermeasure to the NSA’s controversial mass data collection activities, which first came to light due to Edward Snowden’s revelations. And while the laws protected Mainers’ data from state agencies, there was a loophole.
State law does not prevent the NSA from collecting Mainers’ cell phone data without a warrant. Therefore, state agencies could essentially outsource their work to the NSA, according to Brakey, with the federal government conducting warrantless data collection and passing that information along to state agencies.
“What [the Maine Fourth Amendment Protection Act] does is it closes that loophole, and it says that our state agencies, and local agencies, cannot accept or enable the federal government when it’s doing these illegal searches and seizures,” said Brakey in an interview. “It would prohibit our state and local agencies from accepting and using that data for any purposes.”
While the bill would not stop the NSA from conducting warrantless surveillance, it would make it illegal for state agencies to assist the NSA with or benefit from those actions.
“By denying state supplied material support and resources to federal agencies that collect unwarranted data, states like Maine can hinder spying and force needed reforms from the bottom up,” said Mike Maharrey, the National Communications Director of the Tenth Amendment Center. “If the reforms fail to materialize, and enough states join together, they can conceivably shut down the spy apparatus simply by refusing to aid and abet its illegal actions.”
Bills like Brakey’s are spreading around the country, as Americans express frustration with what they consider a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. According to Maharrey, 14 other states are considering similar legislation.
However, not all Americans are opposed to the NSA’s surveillance activities. Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the NSA, has maintained that the agency’s mass data collection is critical to the nation’s security.
When asked if he was concerned that his bill could handicap the NSA from doing their job, Brakey replied with a chuckle:
“Anything we can do to handcuff the NSA from doing unconstitutional illegal activities is certainly fine by me.”