February 12th, 2014
12:54 PM ET
10 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. PaulCat

    I do believe if they just need to suit someone they need to start with George W Bush.
    Rand Paul, this won't get you the White House either.

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

    Ok, Aqua Buddha. This clown will be a one-termer in the Senate.

    February 12, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  3. BC

    And you idiots are still blaming Bush for all of your kings failures.

    February 12, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  4. rr

    Rand Paul is an idiot. Always has been and always will be. He's an idiot of a lawyer also. Rand, do the people's will and stop grandstanding. What did O'Neal say about Empty Suits???

    February 12, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  5. george

    Someone has to stop Heir Obama.

    February 12, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  6. Matt

    Wasting more tax dollars for your own benefit again Mr. Paul? It's not going to win you the WH.

    February 12, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  7. West

    Rand Paul is a quack.

    February 12, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  8. PaulCat

    RAND PAUL IS ONE (little) BIG "JOKE"

    February 12, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  9. tom l

    @Sniffit,
    How sad of you to try and pass that off with Rand Paul, who wasn't even a member of congress until 2010. And his father voted against the Patriot Act and Rand Paul voted against the renewal of the Act. My friend, he is acting completely consistent and when he tried to get answers through Congress, was stonewalled. So while you can make a comment like that it is completely unfounded and untrue.

    On another note, how can you possibly not support this action? I know for sure you are against the Patriot Act. I know you didn't support it when Bush was president (and now you try and twist it to the repubs now being against it but you know that McCain and Graham would never support the lawsuit so you have a total strawman argument). So why would you not support something that you clearly support. Oh yeah, that's right, it came from Rand Paul and he's one of "them".

    February 12, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  10. luc

    Paul has nothing else to do. The GOP is all over the place first they repeal Obama care 40 times, can't get a deal on immigration because GOP can not agree on anything, Hilary is no good because of Monica, omg I can go on but it is making me vomit. As for Ted Cruz he is in hiding trying to get his Canadian citizenship renounced and hoping that Trump doesn't sell him out because he is not eligible to run for the POTUS because he was not born in the USA. Cruz is trying to keep under the radar hope, the Dems take him to task on his birthplace. When the dems win in 2014 and win 2016 I wish that they get the house and change the tax codes to the 1% to help the rest of the country.

    February 12, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  11. tom l

    Fair!
    Please have some fun and read Rudy's comments in the other Rand Paul story.

    February 12, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  12. tom l

    Look at all of the liberals on here willing to sacrifice their rights now that there is a dem president. Nice intellectual honesty, or lack thereof.

    February 12, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  13. Pat

    All I Have to Say is:
    ********HILLARY 2016******
    Thanks Paul.

    February 12, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  14. Randyk

    Paul is going for 1st place in Olympic Grandstanding. Why shouldn't he, as long as the press keep giving him headlines for whatever silly thing he does.

    February 12, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    "The 4th Ammendment guarantees the right to privacy. That right was violated, so technically anyone with a phone was "harmed"."

    It's not just the 4th...look up Justice Blackmun's "penumbra of rights" discussion. Moreover, there's already case law that says a lot of the information being collected isn't actually "private."

    What's really too bad about this is that it takes a legitimate question a lot of people would like answered and undermines it because, well, Randroid's a kooky demagogue who is using this as a political stunt and the people backing it and funding it are complete freekin nutjobs who only suddenly had a problem when it was a black Dem POTUS doing it. The motivations are all askew and that taints the whole thing.

    February 12, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  16. Hoppy

    It seems odd that a man who bases his political beliefs on the fictional writings of Ayn Rand would be against the NSA. Something doesn't sound right with him – and never has.

    February 12, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  17. Co2

    You'd think Rand Paul's outward appearance would raise a whole lot of red flags about elevated level of ignorance-before he even opened his mouth.

    Then that should have tipped off the rest of America. The guy is bizarro strange.

    February 12, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  18. Dallas

    Rand – go sit down! You are never going to be POTUS – you are beating a dead horse – go do your job for the people of your state. You are just wasting our time and patience!

    February 12, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    "How sad of you to try and pass that off with Rand Paul, who wasn't even a member of congress until 2010. "

    How sad of you to pretend that Randroid's silence on the subject would only be relevant if he's in Congress. Show me his public commentary prior to being in Congress and his activism against Dubya's behavior and he'll get a pass...but I don't happen to recall any. Moreover, the hypocrisy argument doesn't apply just to him and my previous comment on that wasn't intended to apply just to him....you know, in light of the fact that FreedomWorks and conservative donors are backing and funding this effort to blame it all on Obama.

    February 12, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  20. Wake up People!

    Didn't this start under Bush? Shouldn't the Cheney administration be part of this suit? What say ye Mr. I wouldn't have voted for Civil Rights if I had been around back then??

    February 12, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  21. robert

    Glad to see some of our representatives still have the guts to stand up to Obama's lawlessness. Thank you, Mr. Paul!

    Yes, libs, this was Bush's legislation, but Obama has had the authority for 5 years to try and scale back the NSA but instead has expanded it. Obama is too busy crushing the American people with his healthcare law, pushing to open our borders, raising our debt ceiling, expanding power to the IRS and trying to buy votes by raising the minimum wage (hello inflation!).

    I don't care how 2016 gets here, just get it here soon!!!

    February 12, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  22. felix

    No one opposing Rand Paul in these comments is offering any substance. Only personal, childish attacks.

    The 4th amendment is worth protecting - even for all you dolts who oppose the law suit, and don't even realize that it's you, too, who are under threat from the govt.

    February 12, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  23. LOYALRIGHT

    Glad to see someone standing up to this Bully administration and his Chicago like thugs.

    February 12, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  24. Dangermouse

    Who pay's for this long court case. Rand Paul? Us? Paul doesn't like any of the NSA stuff which is sketchy, but when the Kochs do it it's fine right?

    February 12, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  25. The Real Tom Paine

    -tom l

    Look at all of the liberals on here willing to sacrifice their rights now that there is a dem president. Nice intellectual honesty, or lack thereof.
    **********************************
    If a Libertarian ever gets elected president, I'm certainly going to enjoy watching you rationalize away your idealism in favor of the reality of governing. Don't confuse ideological purity with an ability to actually govern, since the two rarely coincide, and since Libertarians can't even state or agree on what is an acceptable size and reach of government, you really have no business commenting on intelelctual honesty when your own beliefs have never really been tested. As intelligent as you are, you are incredibly naive.

    February 12, 2014 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
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