February 12th, 2014
12:54 PM ET
8 months ago

Rand Paul announces suit against Obama administration over NSA

Updated 7:39 p.m. ET, 2/12/2014

(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.

"I think that we will be heard and I think that we have a very strong argument," Paul, a potential presidential contender in 2016, said on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront on Wednesday.

He acknowledged that the generally large composition of the class could complicate the case.

"But we didn't define the class," he said. "This is defined by the arrogance of government that has decided that the Fourth Amendment really allows a warrant to be written for everybody's phone records. It shows the enormity and the egregiousness of the government's intrusion."

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

Read the suit

"We don't do this out of disrespect to anyone," Paul said earlier Wednesday at a news conference in Washington. "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."

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.

"Americans do not like to think of their government as some Orwellian leviathan, engaging in surveillance tactics that we only expect to see in oppressive autocracies," Paul writes in an opinion piece for CNN.com. "That such surveillance could be going on in what is ostensibly the freest nation in the world is a chilling thought indeed."

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.

"I think there really is a question of privacy here, protecting privacy," Paul told CNN.

"I would say that this example of this being 300 million people being affected really illustrates the problem that we have a generalized warrant, not a specific warrant."

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.

Opinion: Stop the NSA while we still can

Americans nationwide are split on the issue. A Quinnipiac University survey from last month indicated that 48% of registered voters support the metadata program, compared to 47% who oppose the data collection. Five percent said they're unsure or have no opinion.

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.


Filed under: Ken Cuccinelli • NSA • Rand Paul
soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. The REAL Truth...

    Why is this being posted again ??? I was so... yesterday CNN !!

    February 12, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  2. Gurgyl

    I just laughed at these idiots. Trivial suits get dismissed. I think we need to get lawyers too, just like we did Healthcare. Bunch of nonsense going on legal system, entire legal system needs revamped.

    February 12, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  3. xray vision

    Is that the kitchen sink he's about to throw out there? Give it a rest already, just gotta stay in the news huh. Let me save you some time, never gonna happen, you will never be president, get real. I can't imagine a scenario where you would be a viable candidate.

    February 12, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    I'm tired of Rand Paul for now. What's Ted Cruz been up to? I'll bet that he's followed suit with much of the rest of the congressional Republicans, and sauntered off on some secret overseas adventure. Has he returned from his secret trips, yet?

    February 12, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  5. Silence DoGood

    “you have to prove that you were injured”
    Can the families of the 1000's of dead people killed in Iraq sue former president W. They were most certainly injured in a war that was justified with obvious public lies to the American people. And I want to sue W as well for a refund on the taxes I paid to support the War of Lies too.

    Someone should explain bulk metadata to the "professor Paul too. By definition, that is not specific to a person so how can those persons prove harm. Oh yeah let's take even more science out of the public classroom.

    February 12, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC

    Look, I'm no legal expert. But my understanding of how civil suit works is that you must first have a "complaint", or something like that. You must demonstrate that a party has been harmed, or will be harmed by whatever it is your filing against. I don't think Rand Paul's talking points meet that minimum standard. He cannot demonstrate how harm is being done.

    February 12, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  7. Pander Bear

    Yawn. Naturally he'll name George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of the NeoCon cabal as defendants as well right? Because they're the ones who started this widespread "data collection" thing. The same "conservatives" screaming about invasion of privacy are the same conservatives who called us traitors when we dared to criticize the government when the Islamic Boogeymen were everywhere.

    "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil. " – John Ashcroft

    February 12, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  8. Winstorn Smith

    We will never stop. We will never tire. We will crush you Progs if it takes a thousand years.

    February 12, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  9. neastsider

    How about suing the baggers and the gop for refusing to pass legislation restoring long term unemployment benefits for the now almost 2 million and growing people who can't find work.The baggers and the gop are so pre-occupied with blaming the Obama admin for implementing the ACA and for not implementing the ACA; they can’t have it both ways. They’re also so obsessed with protecting the 1% and the corporation’s precious tax breaks and tax shelters that the unemployed are just necessary casualties in their destructive crusade.

    February 12, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    Dubya does it: "you're either with us or against us...this is must-pass legislation that will protect our freedumb and way of life"

    Obama does it: "this is all new! I've never heard of this before! we must file suit! how horrible!"

    February 12, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  11. Lolo

    Anything to become president I see. Will this clown please go sit down!!!!! No one is voting for a racist for president. They called President Obama a racist, but seem to overlook the racist in their Klan..

    February 12, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  12. jinx9to88

    Its funny how every Repub that is running for president in 2016 tries to out do the next guy. I wonder what Ted Cruz will do to try to top this stunt by Rand Paul?

    February 12, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  13. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Sen. "I Stand With Traitors" is just putting on a political stunt.

    February 12, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  14. somebody

    When the Patriot Act and the first FISA bills were passed under Bush, it was "keeping us safe." Under Obama it's "tyranny" and people feign surprise that the NSA actually did what the new laws allowed.
    I guess it makes sense when you're world view is that the current POTUS is just an uppity dictator that controls everything even though he's always on vacation. It's pretty sad really.

    IMO, collecting meta data pales in comparison to private corporations sharing our personal information and tracking our internet traffic for marketing purposes.

    February 12, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  15. Silence DoGood

    @Pander Bear
    Yawn. Naturally he'll name George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of the NeoCon cabal as defendants as well right? Because they're the ones who started this widespread "data collection" thing.
    -----------
    Wait, who put Bush in charge? It was the voters, the American people! They should be named in the suit too! And Paul too – he is an American. Paul should sue himself as well. My God – how far does this evil go? Everyone's ancestors came from somewhere else in the World. All countries are liable. We need to sue the whole world!
    - at this point I would ask you to put the image in your head of legal professor Paul running off into the sunset tossing his tin foil hat in the air. -–

    February 12, 2014 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  16. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Look, I'm no legal expert. But my understanding of how civil suit works is that you must first have a "complaint", or something like that. You must demonstrate that a party has been harmed, or will be harmed by whatever it is your filing against. I don't think Rand Paul's talking points meet that minimum standard. He cannot demonstrate how harm is being done.
    --------
    The 4th Ammendment guarantees the right to privacy. That right was violated, so technically anyone with a phone was "harmed".

    February 12, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  17. Tony

    The government has sovereign immunity and may not be sued, unless it waives its immunity or consents to be sued.

    February 12, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  18. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    The Junior Senator was then heard to mumble...
    "Who's been painting my roses red?
    Who's been painting my roses red?
    Who dares to taint with vulgar paint
    The royal flower bed
    For painting my roses red
    Someone will lose his head"!!!!!

    February 12, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  19. 100%

    Good for Senator Paul!!!!

    February 12, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  20. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Sorry little man... All this was ushered in by Bush-Cheney and Ashcroft years ago and it was just Peachy Keen with the GOP! What's the problem Little Ayn Rand?

    February 12, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  21. Denise

    This belongs in the tea party kangaroo court. Hey Rand, guess what, Barack is something that you will never, ever, ever be, a duly 'elected' not 'selected' president serving his second term.

    February 12, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  22. Rudy NYC

    "Look, I'm no legal expert. But my understanding of how civil suit works is that you must first have a "complaint", or something like that. You must demonstrate that a party has been harmed, or will be harmed by whatever it is your filing against. I don't think Rand Paul's talking points meet that minimum standard. He cannot demonstrate how harm is being done."

    The 4th Ammendment guarantees the right to privacy. That right was violated, so technically anyone with a phone was "harmed".
    ------------------------------
    What aspect of your "privacy" was violated? How much privacy is one supposed to have in public settings? When a highway cop shines a radar gun at your vehicle, is your privacy being violated? When a traffic camera records images of your passing vehicle is your privacy being violated? Did you know that the internet is just as public as a public highway or street?

    How about this one? When you perform a financial transaction with a company, and then they sell your personal information to a third party, are your privacy rights being violated? If so, how come you're not raising a fuss about it?

    February 12, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  23. Phyllis Gwendoline Williams

    How can you sue a person for an item you gave the person when you voted them in office??

    February 12, 2014 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    i thought terrorists are in the run and B. L. is dead, y phone tapping is needed?

    February 12, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  25. Phyllis Gwendoline Williams

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    How can you sue a person for an item you gave the person when you voted them in office??

    February 12, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
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