Rand Paul files class action lawsuit against NSA

by February 12, 2014 2:32PM ET
Joined by tea party group FreedomWorks, Paul argues NSA’s phone-data-collection program violates Fourth Amendment
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Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., holds up cellphones in front of a U.S. district court to announce the filing of a class action lawsuit against the Obama administration for telecom-spying activities.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., officially filed a class action lawsuit against President Barack Obama and several other high-level administration officials Wednesday morning, arguing that the massive phone-data-collection program of the National Security Agency (NSA) infringes on Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Paul is joined in the lawsuit by FreedomWorks, a national tea party organization, and is being represented in the case by Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia gubernatorial candidate and another prominent tea party figure. Other defendants include National Intelligence Director James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander and FBI Director James Comey.

“There’s a huge and growing swell of protest of people who are outraged that their records would be taken without suspicion, without a judge’s warrant and without individualization,” Paul said in a press conference on the steps of the D.C. district court. “This we believe will be a historic lawsuit. We think it may well be the largest class action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.”

The libertarian senator from Kentucky has been one of the most vocal critics opposing the NSA’s far-reaching surveillance programs, joined by liberals like Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Paul says he does not want to abolish the programs, but rather wants to bring them in line with the Constitution.

“I’m not against the NSA. I’m not against spying. I’m not against looking at phone records. I just want you to go to a judge, have a person’s name and individualize the warrant,” Paul said.

Despite a spate of hearings on whether the NSA has overstepped its bounds and growing skepticism among the public, little substantial reform has come about since former federal contractor Edward Snowden revealed the breadth and depth of the agency’s spying capabilities. Legislative proposals to rein in the NSA’s powers have stalled in Congress, as administration officials continue to say the programs are vital to national security.

Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, said that despite the involvement of tea party figures in a lawsuit against an administration they have been perpetually at war with, the issue reaches farther than that.

“This isn’t Republican versus Democrat; this isn’t about the Obama administration. This is about a government that has crossed the line,” he said. “We want to put that genie back in the bottle, because the Bill of Rights is a sacred document to everybody that’s an American citizen.” 

The lawsuit only takes up the matter of the NSA’s phone-data-collection program, seeking to halt it and purge records collected over the last five years.

“Plaintiffs and class members seek a declaration that the Mass Associational Tracking Program is unconstitutional, an injunction forbidding the government from continuing the MATP and an order to the Defendants to purge from its MATP databases all of the telephone metadata related to the communications of Plaintiffs and class members,” the complaint reads.

Paul and Cuccinelli said they hope the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court, so the debate about private records can happen in the public arena. Cuccinelli added that anyone who has used a phone over the last five years has standing to become part of the lawsuit, on the grounds of being “injured by the collection.” Other challenges, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocates against the NSA, are also in the process of wending their way through the court system.

The lawsuit, no doubt, serves to further boost the public profile of Paul, who is widely believed to harbor presidential ambitions, and to reinforce his libertarian bona fides.

One of the places people can sign up online to become part of the class action is the website of Paul’s political action committee, RAND PAC — the sort of vessel that future presidential contenders rely on to raise money and lay the organizational groundwork for a candidacy.

Asked what he would do when faced with the file of national-security threats the president receives regularly, Paul answered, “We’re going to stick to the court case and not politics today.”

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