Rand Paul Announces Suit Against Obama Administration Over NSA

By: Nick Viviani
By: Nick Viviani

(CNN) -- Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday he's suing President Barack Obama and top national security officials over the government's sweeping electronic surveillance program made public by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

The Kentucky Republican and the conservative group FreedomWorks are filing a class-action challenge against the government's phone metadata collection effort, which stores the numbers and call times of phone calls.

"On behalf of myself, FreedomWorks and everyone in America that has a phone, we are filling suit against the President of the United States in defense of the Fourth Amendment," Paul, a potential presidential contender, said at a news conference in Washington.

The suit also names National Intelligence Director James Clapper, outgoing NSA Director Keith Alexander, and FBI Director James Comey.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs and class members want a declaration that bulk metadata collection is unconstitutional, an end to it, and an order to purge stored data that's related to plaintiffs and class members.

"We don't do this out of disrespect to anyone," Paul said. "We do this out of respect to the Constitution and out of belief that these decisions cannot be made in secret by a secret court but that they need to be made in open by the Supreme Court."

A firebrand in the Republican Party whose brand of conservatism embraces Libertarian ideals, Paul is an ardent critic of U.S. surveillance programs, which he says infringe on basic civil liberties under the Constitution.

"We fought the American Revolution because we were unhappy about British soldiers writing generalized warrants," Paul said. "We wrote the Fourth Amendment to be specific to the person, to the place and to the items."

Ken Cuccinelli, a former Republican attorney general in Virginia who lost the state's gubernatorial election last November, is serving as lead counsel. Cuccinelli predicted the lawsuit will pan out over several years.

"When the Supreme Court finally rules on these questions, Americans' Fourth Amendment rights will be vindicated and we will prevail," he said.

Snowden's leaks to the media last year about NSA collection of telephone and e-mail data outraged Libertarians, privacy advocates and many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

They considered it government overreach in the fight against terrorism.

Obama has defended the programs, but announced modest reforms to NSA's practices last month. While access to the metadata will be tightened and possibly shifted from the NSA to elsewhere, the collection and storage of the metadata will still continue.

"As we've said previously we believe the program as it exists is lawful," Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Wednesday in a statement to CNN. "Indeed, it has been found to be lawful by multiple courts. And it receives oversight from all three branches of government, including the Congress."

In Obama's speech at the Justice Department last month, the President revealed new guidance for intelligence-gathering as well as changes intended to balance what he called the nation's vital security needs with concerns over privacy and civil liberties.

Paul joins a number of anti-NSA activists who are unsatisfied with the proposed changes.

CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said there are many procedural problems with the kind of suit brought by Paul.

On CNN's Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield, Toobin said that "you have to prove that you were injured" and the government is likely to argue that neither Paul nor any of the other plaintiffs can prove that was the case or that even their calls were monitored.

But Toobin argued the underlying issue about whether the program is constitutional or not "is certainly a real one."

Cuccinelli disagreed with Toobin.

"If you use a phone--and both my clients do--then they are injured by the gathering of this information," he said at the press conference.

"Standing is not my greatest legal concern here," he continued. "It is getting to the merits and winning on the merits."

-- CNN's Jake Tapper and Alison Harding contributed to this report.

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