Activists Fly Airship over the NSA's Data Center

Greenpeace's airship floats over the NSA's data center with a sign that reads, "Illegal Spying Below." Electronic Frontier Foundation

On Friday, three activist groups flew an airship over the National Security Agency's secretive data center in the Utah desert. The ship, which bore a sign that read "Illegal Spying Below," was decorated to promote, a new site designed to grade Congress's record on surveillance legislation.

"It was really surreal to see the scope of the sprawling database," says Parker Higgins, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who rode in the airship. The 100,000-square-foot facilities storage capabilities are not known, but estimates range from exabytes to yottabytes of information.

The stunt was a joint effort between the EFF, Greenpeace and the Tenth Amendment Center.

Higgins's explains that evaluates how House and Senate members have voted on key bills and amendments such as the USA Freedom Act and the Surveillance State Repeal Act. The former was designed to end the government's practice of collecting the telephone metadata of millions of Americans; the latter to repeal the Patriot Act.

Much of the legislation considered has either been proposed or debated in the year since former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden disclosed a trove a secret NSA documents to the media. The documents showed how the agency collects the phone records, emails, chats, location data and other communications of people around the world.

The list grades each congressperson's voting record from A to F. Most on the list were given either an A or an F, reflecting how polarized Congress is on the issue of digital privacy. Publishing the list, Higgins hopes, will force Congress to "move beyond empty statements."

"You don't often get one over on the NSA," he says.