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Monday, January 12, 2015

Tennessee Republicans support NSA spying by killing off anti-NSA legislation

By: Michael Lotfi Apr 4, 2014
State Rep. Lundberg (R) kills anti-NSA bill. Top campaign donor: AT&T

NASHVILLE, April 4, 2014– A bill moving through Tennessee State House committees, which would have curtailed NSA spying from within the state, was killed Thursday by one Democrat who joined three Republicans in the House Civil Justice Committee.

“We want to make sure that the state of Tennessee, if we can’t have any jurisdiction anywhere outside the bounds of the state, that at least in this state, we’re going to take some effort forward and try to circumvent the federal government from violating our Fourth Amendment rights,” said Tennessee Fourth Amendment Protection Act (HB1907) chief House sponsor State Rep. Andy Holt (R). The Senate version of the legislation was sponsored by State Senator Stacey Campfield (R).

As amended, HB1907 would have barred the introduction of data or metadata in state court unless it was gathered under a warrant issued in accordance with state law; an order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction based on probable cause; an order, including wiretap orders and pen register orders as authorized by state law; or a subpoena issued or obtained pursuant to state law. The bill would not only have addressed state and local law enforcement collection of data, it would have also ended one practical effect of NSA spying, making data unconstitutionally gathered and shared by the agency inadmissible in court.

The bill appeared to pass committee on a voice vote, but Lundberg exercised his discretion as chairman and called for a roll call. When the “new vote” ended in a tie, the chairman immediately declared the bill dead.

The legislation failed to clear the Civil Justice Committee by receiving a 4-4 vote. Republicans Vance Dennis, Andrew Farmer, and John Lundberg joined Democrat Sherry Jones to kill the measure.

Civil Justice Committee chair Lundberg made it clear from the outset that he opposed the bill. In his opening remarks, the chairman cited concerns from an unnamed business organization.

“I also have a letter from an organization, and I won’t read you the entire thing, but they’re also believing, even as amended, this could be interpreted as banning companies from doing business with the state of Tennessee, or a political subdivision. So this bill could inadvertently, I think – at least I hope you’re not trying to kill jobs in Tennessee.”

Lundberg’s comment is curious because the amendment language made no mention of business interests at all. This argument against the legislation was never mentioned again.

Dennis proved the most vocal opponent of the bill. He asserted that “it doesn’t do anything.”

“You have to have a search warrant unless you don’t,” he said.

Dennis went on to argue that, “The Fourth Amendment is there regardless of what of what statute is on the books,” and insisted that a court would throw out any illegally obtained evidence with or without HB1907.

Dennis clearly did not understand the intent of the bill. We know the NSA shares data with state and local law enforcement. We know from a Reuters report that most of this shared data has absolutely nothing to do with national security issues.

Despite the clear Fourth Amendment ramifications, the default position seems to be that this NSA gathered data is “legal.” HB1907 would have stopped use of that evidence. It would have required Tennessee courts to toss any such information, even if the federal government declared it legal. It would have asserted the state’s legitimate authority to provide Tennesseans with greater protection than afforded by federal law. That certainly, “does something.”

This brings us back to the concerns from business interest Lundberg voiced at the beginning of the hearing, but never again addressed. It is well know that companies like AT&T lobbied heavily against similar bills in other states, even continuing to express opposition after amendments were offered to address their concerns. The IT Alliance for Public Sector also lobbied against the bill in at least two other states.

It seems as though heavy pressure from business interests was brought to bear when the Fourth Amendment Protection Act was first introduced in Tennessee, prompting the amendment to a more narrow focus. One wonders if Lundberg’s opposition was prompted by the business lobby.

Did Lundberg kill this bill because he values  business more than protecting Fourth Amendment rights and privacy of his constituents? Many inside the state legislature believe that to be the case.

Lundberg also came under fire last year for passing an official state resolution to honor himself