Anti-surveillance groups flew over the NSA's massive Utah data center in a blimp on Friday in a dramatic protest against government surveillance.
Greenpeace, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation and the conservative Tenth Amendment Center sent up a message on a thermal airship for a flying protest above the agency's $2 billion data center, which critics charge could be used to store nearly limitless amounts of Americans' private information.
"NSA illegal spying below," read a message on the blimp, with an arrow pointing straight down to the Bluffdale, Utah center.
"The public needs to be brought into the Congressional debate around surveillance reform happening right now," the EFF's Rainey Reitman said in a statement. "We're flying an airship over the Utah data center, which has come to symbolize the NSA's collect-it-all approach to surveillance, and demanding an end to the mass spying. It's time for bold action in defense of our privacy."
Greenpeace said it offered its blimp for the protest because the NSA's surveillance also jeopardizes the basic free speech and free association rights of its environmental advocates. The conservative group, for its part, joined the fly-by to show that electronic surveillance is not a partisan issue.
Journalists who have attempted to photograph the Utah data center have occasionally encountered hostile reactions. But the airspace above the data center is not restricted, so Greenpeace was apparently within its rights to fly the blimp overhead.
Asked for comment on the dirigible escapade, NSA spokeswoman Vanee' Vines essentially said the agency's critics should get their heads out of the clouds.
"All of NSA's operations are conducted in strict accordance with the rule of law," she said in a statement.