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NSA spying protest takes to the skies in Utah

In the skies above the NSA's data center in Bluffdale, Utah, a lone airship protests mass government surveillance.


A team of anti-surveillance activists from Greenpeace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Tenth Amendment Center came together to protest the US government's mass surveillance programs on Friday by flying an airship over a National Security Agency data center in Utah.

Early this morning, the 135-foot-long thermal airship emblazoned with the words "NSA illegal spying below" flew above the massive data center. The pilots of the airship tweeted from the @EFF account, "Best place on earth to watch a sunrise: from an airship over the Utah NSA data center, with a big banner demanding an end to mass spying."

A link to was also displayed on the side of the airship. The website was launched Friday by the three participating groups in conjunction with a broader coalition of grassroots organizations and Internet companies. According to Greenpeace, the site will grade members of Congress on their performance in privacy and security issues in relation to the sweeping powers of the NSA.

The EFF is representing 22 organizations, including Greenpeace, in a lawsuit against the NSA for violating the their First Amendment rights by illegally collecting call records. At the heart of the case, First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, is the NSA's bulk collection of phone records, a program the government legally justified under section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The NSA's bulk collection of phone "metadata," which includes numbers dialed and call duration, was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last summer. In March, President Obama proposed legislation to reform the program, which would see phone companies hold onto records and require the NSA and other government agencies to obtain a court order to access records.

The House last month passed the Freedom Act to end the program, but the reform legislation continues to work its way through the Senate. In the meantime, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last Thursday renewed an order allowing the NSA to continue its collection of phone records.

"Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President announced earlier this year," the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice said in a joint statement. "Consistent with prior declassification decisions, in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has declassified the fact that the government's application to renew the program was approved yesterday by the FISC ."

The court order, which must be renewed every 90 days, expires on September 12.