State Senate bill aims to limit NSA electronic data collection in California

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A new bill proposed in the California Senate may prohibit state entities, including the California State University system, from assisting federal agencies in the collection of personal data from Californians.

Specifically, the bill would limit state agencies, officials or corporations that provide services on behalf of the state from providing material support or assistance to any federal agency collecting electronic data about any California resident unless there has been a warrant issued.

Also known as the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, Senate Bill 828 was authored by Senator Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and Senator Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, in response to a federal ruling stating that the National Security Agency’s phone monitoring program may be unconstitutional.

“The NSA has been violating the constitutional rights of all Americans, including over 38 million Californians, for years by seizing and searching our phone records,” Lieu said. “This bill tells state agencies and officials to not aid the NSA in violating our citizens’ rights.”

Currently, two UC campuses — UC Davis and UC Irvine — and three state universities are part of a program, jointly sponsored by the NSA and Department of Homeland Security, that aims to reduce vulnerability in national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber security, networking and cryptography.

The bill, however, will have minimal effects on research at UC campuses because of the university’s constitutional autonomy from the state, Lieu said.

Although the bill is designed to hinder state law enforcement from assisting in the retrieval of personal data, it would also disallow state agencies such as CSUs from sharing privately disclosed information with federal agencies such as the NSA.

“For example, let’s say the NSA wanted records from California’s employment department; it would apply to that circumstance as well,” Lieu said.

But the classified nature of data collection would prevent federal agencies like the NSA from offering grants for research that directly assist in surveillance, said Director of the Cyber Security Center at CSU San Bernardino Tony Coulson.

“If you wanted to find out about the grants at Cal State San Bernardino, you can go right online, and you can see all of the grants,” Coulson said. “They would not be asking us to perform classified research on the public record.”

While Lieu hopes the bill will hinder NSA surveillance in California, it is also intended to encourage public discourse across the nation on issues such as privacy.

Several other states have already had similar bills proposed in their legislatures, and Lieu believes that this trend will continue to grow.

“Oklahoma introduced a similar bill,” Lieu said. “A few days later, Arizona has introduced a bill, and I know other states like Washington and Utah are looking at it as well, so the goal is to get more states to sign on.”

Chase Schweitzer covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ChaseSchweitz.