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Activists fly blimp over Utah's NSA center

Published June 28, 2014 4:45 pm

Protest • Groups demand an end to alleged "illegal spying."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A group of activists took flight in a blimp over the National Security Agency's data center Friday morning in Bluffdale.

The digital watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation shared credit for the flight on Twitter with Greenpeace and the Tenth Amendment Center.

The groups launched the blimp in conjunction with a new report card to rate members of Congress for their involvement in what EFF dubbed "mass spying" by the government.

Each member of Utah's congressional delegation received an "A" except for Rep. Jim Matheson, who received an "F" for opposing two bills that included restrictions on NSA funding, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, who did not vote on the pertinent bills and received no grade.

The report card was developed by more than 20 groups, from gun rights advocates to religious organizations and environmentalists, many of whom have joined in a lawsuit against the NSA alleging illegal surveillance.

Greenpeace, one of the plaintiffs, joined the blimp ride to demonstrate against surveillance efforts that have targeted the group and threatened environmental advocacy, said spokesman David Pomerantz.

"What we've learned over the last 40 years of environmental campaigning is that to have a healthy environment, we need to have a healthy democracy also," Pomerantz said. "That's impossible when the government is spying."

Greenpeace and EFF were joined in flight by the conservative Tenth Amendment Center, which promotes decentralized government and constitutional originalism.

"Our right to privacy is not a partisan issue. It's a human rights issue," Tom Boldin, founder of Tenth Amendment Center, said in a press statement.

The flight served no intelligence-gathering purpose, Pomerantz said.

The blimp was accompanied by a helicopter hired to photograph the flight, said EFF spokeswoman Rebecca Jeschke, dispelling rumors that the helicopter was a military craft deployed to force the blimp to land.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines confirmed the data center is not within restricted air space. Utah National Guard Lt. Col. Steven Fairbourn confirmed that the blimp flight was not in conflict with scheduled air restrictions related to Guard operations, and that its aircraft did not intervene with the blimp venture.

ealberty@sltrib.com