Sen. Rand Paul Fights NSA Surveillance of Americans
(CN) - The U.S. government's dragnet spying program violates the Fourth Amendment and must be stopped, Sen. Rand Paul claims in a federal class action.
Rand, a Kentucky Libertarian, called the lawsuit "historic" at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, adding that it's the "largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights."
Though a spokesman for the senator said the complaint was filed personally in Washington, D.C., there is no record of it at the courthouse, and copies are available only on a website maintained by Libertarian grassroots organization FreedomWorks, a co-plaintiff in the case.
Although there have been several lawsuits challenging the National Security Agency's collection of millions of Americans' telephone records, one of Rand's attorneys, Ken Cuccinelli, said at the news conference that their lawsuit is the first and only one strictly challenging the alleged Fourth Amendment violations to the benefit of hundreds of millions of Americans.
During the conference, Paul said he was not "against" the NSA, spying or even looking at phone records.
"I just want you to go to a judge, have a person's name and individualize their warrant," he said. "That's what the Fourth Amendment says."
In his lawsuit Paul argued that the metadata the federal government collects could reveal a lot about a person's associations and beliefs.
"Such metadata and details taken by, and in the hands of, defendants and government violate the reasonable expectations of privacy of plaintiffs and class members," the complaint states.
"At a minimum, defendants violate plaintiffs' and class members' Fourth Amendment rights each time they gather, store or search plaintiffs' and class members' telephone metadata," Paul added.
Although telephone customers willingly reveal certain information to contract for telephone service, providing that data "does not reflect a willingness or expectation that they are surrendering the privacy of the information, but simply reflects a necessary accommodation to modern life," according to the complaint.
Paul pointed to public-opinion polls that have shown "widespread opposition" to the program.
Such results "are one form of evidence showing that society views as reasonable the subjective collective expectation of plaintiffs and class members that telephone metadata related to their domestic and international communications will remain off limits to the government collection, storage, retention and search absent at least some reasonable, articulable suspicion or probable cause to believe that ... such metada is relevant to the investigation of a particular international terrorism investigation or other criminal enterprise," the complaint states.
The lawsuit also says that at least 11 states have made "ongoing efforts" in their 2014 legislative sessions to oppose the surveillance program. They are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, new Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington.
Virginia meanwhile has advanced legislation demonstrating its opposition to the surveillance efforts lacking a warrant, Paul added.
The federal government has failed to prove its explanations that the surveillance thwarts terrorism, Paul said.
In fact, the program allegedly "adds only speculatively - if at all - to the Executive Branch's muscular counterterrorism arsenal as elaborated herein."
"Plaintiffs and class members reasonably expect both the ability to use telecommunications services and to maintain their privacy when they make phone calls, and society views such privacy expectations as reasonable," the complaint states.
Paul's filing joins several others that have coursed through judicial system seeking to upend the NSA's dragnet spying program, famously brought to light by the agency's former contractor Edward Snowden in June.
Two federal judges have since issued differing opinions on the NSA's practices. One said it was unconstitutional and must be stopped, while another defended it as an essential tool to counter terrorism.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., ruled in December that he couldn't imagine a more "indiscriminate" and "arbitrary invasion" than the NSA's data-collection. That ruling pertains to a lawsuit brought by the founder of the conservative Judicial Watch, Larry Klayman, along with Charles Strange whose father was killed in Afghanistan in 2011; and two private investigators.
Even though Leon ordered the NSA to stop its spying program and destroy the information it collected, he stayed his ruling pending an appeal.
That same month, U.S. District Judge William Pauley III dismissed the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit seeking to block the program, finding that preventing terrorist attacks justifies NSA's surveillance efforts, and that having access to phone data could've put investigators on the scent of Sept. 11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar.
The U.S. government meanwhile has maintained that its spying tactics are legal and supported by all three branches of the federal government and the 35 orders issued by 15 different judges sitting on the once-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
It was only after Snowden leaked the information that the federal government admitted to its data-collection practices. One FISC order that he publicized compels Verizon to give the NSA all call detail and metadata for all communications between the United states and overseas.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allowed for secret courts to authorize government requests for data that might help with counterterrorism activities. The Patriot Act passed by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks broadened the government's ability to collect information about Americans' phone activity.
Paul's lawsuit names as defendants: President Barack Obama; National Intelligence Director James Clapper; NSA Director Keith Alexander; and FBI director James Comey Jr.
Although the lawsuit is signed first by Earl "Trey" Mayfield,attorney Bruce Fein complained to several media outlets Wednesday that he wrote the class action lawsuit, and that his name was replaced with that of Cuccinelli, Virginia's former attorney general and the unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial hopeful there.
Cuccinelli's name is listed third at the end of the lawsuit, after Mayfield and Michael Lewis.