House bill takes aim at NSA data collection

Legislation introduced in the Maryland General Assembly would require state and local officials to refuse to cooperate with the National Security Agency in a wide variety of ways if it continues to collect bulk electronic data without specific warrants.

Eight Republicans in the House of Delegates are backing what they call the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, which would punish officials who violate its provisions by removing them from their positions and excluding them from office permanently.

The eight co-sponsors are among the most libertarian-oriented members of the Republican Party and do not wield a great deal of influence in the Democratic-led House.

Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. of Cecil County, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is intended to protect the Constitution from encroachment by the NSA, one of the state's largest employers

"The NSA is nothing but a tool and we need to make sure the tool is sharpened and pointed in the right direction," he said. "It's easy to protect the Constitution when it's not under attack."

Among other things, the bill could require Howard County, which recently reached an agreement to supply the NSA with water to cool its supercomputers, to cut off the agency. If the county refused to break the agreement, the legislation would cut off state grant funds. The measure would also preclude state agencies from using information uncovered through such data collection practices in criminal investigations.

The bill is a reaction to revelations by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden about the agency's collection of bulk electronic records known as "metadata" as part of its global effort to counter terrorism.

U.S. Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat who serves as ranking member of  the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a statement calling the bill "unnecessarily punitive and ill-informed."

Ruppersberger said the program Smigiel is targeting has been approved by Congress and upheld by federal courts.

"It is bad enough that Edward Snowden has demonized the NSA, but for Maryland lawmakers to degrade their own constituents and threaten so many Maryland jobs is unconscionable," Ruppersberger said.

The legislation is based on model language drafted by the Tenth Amendment Center, an organization dedicated to curbing federal power. According the the center, lawmakers in 12 other states are considering similar legislation.