Sen. Rand Paul filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday to halt the NSA’s phone records collection program and invited millions of Americans to sign up as co-plaintiffs with him, calling the case a chance to re-establish constitutional boundaries on privacy.
The Kentucky Republican, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, said he doesn’t see Congress moving quickly to crack down on the National Security Agency’s snooping and the changes President Obama announced last month don’t go far enough. Instead, he said, Americans must turn to the courts.
“We are filing suit against the president of the United States in defense of the Fourth Amendment,” Mr. Paul said as he stood outside the federal courthouse in Washington, holding up cellphones as props. “There’s a huge and growing swell of protest in this country of people who are outraged that their records would be taken without suspicion, without a judge’s warrant, and without individualization. This, we believe, will be a historic lawsuit.”
Under the NSA program, the government collects and holds five years of phone metadata, including numbers, times and durations of almost all calls made in the U.S., which can be searched without a warrant.
Federal judges in Washington and New York have issued competing decisions. One ruling called the program unconstitutional and the other upheld it.
Mr. Paul’s lawsuit is the latest challenge but probably will not be the decisive one, constitutional scholars said.
“The reality is that Sen. Paul is late to this particular party,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at George Washington University. “Separate challenges to the metadata program are already on appeal to the federal appeals courts in New York and Washington, and class actions tend to move far more slowly to begin with.
All sides expect the issue to end up in front of the Supreme Court.
Former Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who is acting as attorney for Mr. Paul and Freedomworks, a conservative group that is also part of the case, said they expect to file the first challenge to the NSA that gets certified as a class-action lawsuit.
The lawsuit names as defendants President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, NSA Director Keith B. Alexander, and FBI Director James Comey.
The Obama administration has maintained that the program is constitutional and legal. As evidence of that, officials point to repeated approval of the program by congressional intelligence committees and a foreign intelligence court. The administration also says the program is an important part of the nation’s effort to prevent another terrorist attack.
But other reviews, including panels appointed by Mr. Obama and Congress, have said the program violates Bill of Rights protections and, according to one of those reviews, violates a telecommunications law that prohibits phone companies from turning over bulk data to federal agencies.
Mr. Paul countered Wednesday that there hasn’t been any evidence that the phone program has prevented an attack. He said he respects the need for security but boundaries must be maintained.
“I am not against the NSA, I am not against spying, I am not against looking at phone records,” Mr. Paul said. “I just want you to go to a judge, have a person’s name and individualize the warrant. That is what the Fourth Amendment says.”