Utah can’t quit figure out how to deal with the NSA datacenter

Utah can’t quit figure out how to deal with the NSA datacenter

Summary: While the NSA datacenter and its activities are in the national spotlight, local authority remains divided on how to treat it.

SHARE:

While the rest of the country bemoans the behavior of the NSA and its mandate to collect all the data they can find, Utah, where the primary NSA datacenter sits, can’t quite decide on how to handle the facility that has caused such an uproar. Like any political issue, there seems to be an undercurrent of “if we ignore it long enough the problem will go way,” but to a few Utah legislators, the datacenter is a target of opportunity to make a statement.

The Utah state Senate can’t quite make up their minds on the tax status of the NSA datacenters. While the state stands to earn roughly $6,000,000 annually on taxes on the facility, there is a movement to make it tax exempt. This would treat the civilian NSA facility in the same way the state currently treats military installation, exempting them form the tax base. According to a report from the Salt Lake City Fox News' affiliate, state senators seem torn on the issue, not wanting to lose the potential revenue, yet not being sure they have the ability to tax the facility. 

A court battle to determine the issue could be very expensive for the state and potentially set a precedent that would not be beneficial for the state in the long run, especially given how much land and natural resources in western states are already under the aegis of the federal government.

On the more extreme side of the anti-NSA a fervor, one State Representative has put forward a bill, which is still in committee, that would forbid the state to provide services to any facility that collects data on the citizens of the state. House Bill 161 effectively states, “The state, nor any of its political subdivisions will enter into any agreements, service, provide material support to any agency conducting surveillance or collecting mass data on U.S. citizens” — language that would make it unlawful, for example, for utility power to be provided to the NSA datacenter.

While the first bill highlights the confusion surrounding the taxable status of the datacenter, an issue that is usually resolved, at least in the strictly commercial datacenter world, before construction of the facility starts, the second is more of a political statement. Even its author is unsure it will make it out of committee. But it does represent the way that a lot of people feel about what the NSA is doing at the Utah datacenter, especially in Utah.

 

Topics: Data Centers, Government US

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

20 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I applaud their efforts

    Really hoping this “if we ignore it long enough the problem will go way,” ideology does not survive. I hope people won't forget, that eventually anger and tensions will build to the point where legislators have to either de-claw or seriously limit the power and abilities of this super-datacenter just to get people, other nations, and international corporations to shut up about it.

    I sure won't.
    gmoney1911a3
  • If the Legislature is debating tax status...

    ...are we to understand that this is a contract facility? States don't have the authority to tax federal agencies.
    John L. Ries
    • Ok Good!

      You can tell them the relevant sections of the law and save them a lot of running around then.
      After that the State Senate can go bother their heads with something else.
      Tonydid
  • webcam images on NSA servers in UTAH

    Once these Utah politicians realize the NSA will store billions of images from home webcams by virtue of Yahoo, they may realize a few of them may have "bedroom" activities they don't want ANY ONE to see....

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/27/gchq-nsa-webcam-images-internet-yahoo

    maybe then they'll get off their fat butts and do something about this abhorrent Orwellian NSA facility..like shut off it's WATER! Or, they can wait till someone "visits" them with an offer they can't refuse.
    pitchfork
    • The problem is that as long as they meet all Federal, local and code laws

      that would apply to any datacenter be it MS, Facebook, Google, ect, they'd have a hard time just kicking them out.

      Otherwise they could just shut the water off to the McDonald because it's eating into the profits of their friend's Burger King franchise down the street and so on, which last I heard was sort of illegal.

      Same here, since there isn't a law saying they can't have a datacenter that stores what they do, how do you legally just go in and shut them down? And utility companies are not allowed to deny services to the center as long as they meet the requirement stipulated by laws surrounding their status as a "public utility"

      Now, the bill if passed, and if it won all legal arguments against it, that could stop future NSA data centers from being built in the state, but I doubt it could be used to remove the existing one.

      Once again, that's like coming up with a law that targets a specific business that's legally been operating in the community for years, not based on safety concerns, but because you don't like the food they're cooking, while allowing other like businesses to operate unaffected.

      "Or, they can wait till someone "visits" them with an offer they can't refuse."

      Wouldn't that make them just as bad, if not worse, then the people you're trying to chase out? It's not like the NSA threatened to kill people, they just spy on them.
      William.Farrel
      • Maybe I should pose infront of my webcam for a while

        then the NSA would die of laughter
        Papa_Bill
  • Build a 100ft wall around it and fill it with water.

    See how many of the stinking rats can swim.
    Reality Bites
    • Clarity?

      I wish you'd articulate your concerns more re: NSA. Then we'd know how you really feel about their mass surveillance activities.
      PreachJohn
  • Implications of NSA tax status

    If the NSA datacenter is exempted from taxes as if it were a military base, does that mean that it is effectively a reservation of the Federal government, like the military, with a purpose that transcends local authority?

    Putting domestic spying on the level of military activity is something I associate with the KGB and the East German Stasi -- an elevation of the power of government in the exercise of protecting itself against the citizenry. This would suggest that the purpose of the NSA is Constitutionally flawed at best, and at worst an unseemly act of aggrandizement against the people. It could even be construed as aggression against a free people, and thus become the legitimate target of those wishing to restore the Republic.

    The NSA needs to tread carefully here. They can be stripped of their powers now by Congress. If Congress decides it needs those powers to protect itself from the people.... then this change in tax status is an act of war, and should receive the proper repudiation it demands. Personally, at this scale, I prefer artillery, but others may choose other weaponry and tactics.
    progan019
    • NSA is part of the Defence Department

      And its headquarters is on an army base. But I don't see how it makes a difference as federal agencies are not taxable (McCulloch v Maryland); unless a contractor is supposed to be running it.
      John L. Ries
    • Hey Dude, wake up!

      What does the acronym (do you know what acronym means????) NSA stand for? National Security Agency......and for all you out there, that means it's main purpose is to protect the Nation against security threats like terrorists.......have you ever heard of Al-Quida? Osama Bin Laden??? Too many less than intelligent, belligerent people, think the correct approach is a sledge-hammer when a fly-swatter will do. (Ever hear the ancient Chinese saying?) We'll just tweak and add more protections (like requiring search warrants for U.S. citizens)....all you uninformed think the 4th Amendment applies to everyone in the world.....sorry to unfloat your boat........
      mbradley9645
      • We hope that's what it's focused on

        But it's not guaranteed.
        John L. Ries
  • Attention, Editor!

    "Utah can’t quit figure out..." Is there a proofreader in the house?
    TimePassing
    • They probably don't have an "Edit" button either!

      ;)
      SElizDav
  • Extreme?

    The "shut off their power" bill is hardly extreme or radical; there are similar proposals popping up in state legislatures throughout the country.
    masonwheeler
  • Distracted by the typo in the title...

    "Utah can't quit figure out..." Yeah umm, make it stop...
    Too-Tired Techie
  • Spell checker...

    A Little Poem Regarding Computer Spell Checkers...

    Eye halve a spelling chequer
    It came with my pea sea
    It plainly marques four my revue
    Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

    Eye strike a key and type a word
    And weight four it two say
    Weather eye am wrong oar write
    It shows me strait a weigh.

    As soon as a mist ache is maid
    It nose bee fore two long
    And eye can put the error rite
    Its rare lea ever wrong.

    Eye have run this poem threw it
    I am shore your pleased two no
    Its letter perfect awl the weigh
    My chequer tolled me sew.
    Iozone
    • Excellent!

      Proves U dunt reelly need a spell checkquer.....
      mbradley9645
  • Good luck Utah

    I'd say first, the Utah bill to deny water supply to the facility, have about a snowball's chance of passing, and the repercussions of even thinking about doing so would be absolutely devastating to Utah.....second, it would prompt the NSA to claim it is effectively a reservation of the Federal government, "this is federal property and we'll build a water canal to Washington D.C. if we need to...it's sorta like Texas asking Washington to secede from the union.....the Southern states tried that over 100 years ago, good luck......the U.S. Supreme Court would obviously say that states can't do that kind of crap due to the "Commerce Clause", i.e., if you want to conduct business with any other state, you have to obey the rules of the U.S., and BTW, you can't secede from the Union......
    mbradley9645
  • Address the Issue Straight On

    Utah legislators can, and arguably should, address the surveillance straight on. They might do so with legislation having the following effect.

    Require of all non-natural persons storing information pertaining to the nature, character, relationships, communications or activities of any natural person or natural persons (storing entity), to deliver to a state repository agency a list of items of information which are stored, together for each item the identity of the natural person or natural persons to which it pertains, the time, date and location at which the item of information was first obtained, and the nature, time of origination, and time and nature of latest business or financial transaction between any of the identified natural person(s) if there exists a business or commercial relationship between the storing entity. For any item of information pertaining to the nature, character, relationships, communications or activities of one or more natural person or natural persons held by the storing entity for which the storing entity cannot provide the identity of the natural person or person to which the information pertains, the storing entity shall provide any and all such information held by or available to the storing entity that establishes or might establish the relation of said item of information. Items of information obtained at multiple locations or at multiple times shall be broken down and listed as separate information items.

    For each list of information items delivered to the state depository pursuant to this requirement, the storing entity shall pay a fee of $100.00 or $1.00 for each information item on said list at the time said list is delivered, whichever is the greater. Each storing entity having a business presence within the State of Utah shall deliver the list of stored data items required herein quarterly, no later than the tenth day of the calendar month of the quarter for which a list is required.

    The State of Utah department of taxation and such other State of Utah agencies, departments or instrumentalities as the Governor of Utah may from time to time designate are here by authorized to investigate the data related activities, enter upon the premises, seize and examine data equipment of any storing entity having presence within the State of Utah for purposes relating to the implementation or enforcement of this requirement.

    Penalties shall be imposed for failure to deliver information item lists as required herein as follows. Storing entries failing to deliver the required list within 10 days following the end of the quarter for which such report is required shall pay a penalty of $500 or 5% of the storing entries gross revenue for the quarter for which said information list is not timely delivered. Any natural person who knowingly prevents or impedes the generation or delivery of the information item lists herein required to be delivered, or directs or induces another to do so shall be guilty of a felony, the punishment for which shall not be a fine of $100,000 and imprisonment in the Utah State penitentiary for a term not less than 3 years.

    Any United States citizen shall, upon reliably verified identification be entitled to receive without charge a list of information items pertaining to said citizen together with the identity of the storing entity and all other information supplied with said information items delivered to the state repository agency.
    z2217