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A coalition of grassroots groups from across the political spectrum joined forces to fly an airship over the NSA's data center in Bluffdale, Utah on Friday, June 27, 2014, to protest the government's illegal mass surveillance program. The environmental group Greenpeace flew its 135' long thermal airship over the data center carrying the message "NSA Illegal Spying Below".
We checked in advance that everything was legal. At least for now, thumbing your nose at the government is not illegal. ... We did not break the law. —Parker Higgen, Electronic Frontier Foundation

BLUFFDALE — A California-based group that has been battling the National Security Agency for years in lawsuits flew a giant blimp over Utah's NSA Data Center Friday.

Parker Higgen, of the San Francisco-based group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., he — along with a pilot from Greenpeace — flew a 135-foot blimp over the data center with a banner that stated: "NSA. Illegally spying below."

The group, he said, was trying to raise awareness for its new website, standagainstspying.org/.

The foundation tweeted Friday: "We're in an airship over the NSA's data center in Utah with our friends @GreenpeaceUSA & @TenthAmendment, demanding an end to mass spying."

The NSA's Data Center is located in Bluffdale and has been the focus of national scrutiny and criticism. It is believed to be a destination for huge amounts of data from around the world collected by the tight-lipped agency.

Higgen told KSL's Doug Wright Friday after the flight that he had the blimp loaded in a trailer and drove it to Utah from California, and then launched it in the dark from a field. The blimp is owned by Greenpeace.

Even though Greenpeace typically protests environmental issues, Higgen said they, along with all activists, have become increasing targets of government surveillance.

Higgen said despite the apparent rogue nature of the protest, his group actually checked ahead of time to make sure it wouldn't be violating air space violations, particularly over Camp Williams.

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"We checked in advance that everything was legal," he said. "At least for now, thumbing your nose at the government is not illegal. ... We did not break the law."

He said the air space restrictions didn't begin until 7 a.m., when people from the data center arrived for work. Neither the Utah National Guard nor Utah Department of Public Safety was called to respond to the aircraft.

Despite the early hour of the protest, Higgen believes that based on the number of cars he saw pulled over to watch, "It ended up making the splash we wanted to."

The group also hired a helicopter to follow them and take pictures.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam