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.
BREAKING ! NEWS ! DEMS UPSET OVER Rand Paul efforts to STop G0VERMENT HACKING of U.S. CITIZENS smartphones .p.c. an the cam's attached to such devices!
I get it....NSA is/was running rip-shod for a while... they existed before 9/11...and there was worry even before then. Whatever is done, it should not be done publicly. Where's does the NSA get it phone records from? Meta-data aside, ever wonder why telephone companies record your phone calls in the first place? Or why they have the right to do so? Or why companies get to collect data about us from cookies and other Internet technology? Wouldn't it be great if Congress went about its business writing legislation to protect us? Instead we get grandstanding, I didn't know that was going on, publicity seeking do nothing that pretend it's all about us. Just saying.
@The Real TP,
I don't disagree with much of your statement about libertarians getting elected. I think it might almost border on hypocrisy to be that entrenched in govt to make it to the presidency while remaining true to your core values of small govt. You have to believe in big govt to get that job – look no further than Bush and Obama to back up that statement.
I am just trying to point out that I'm pretty darn sure that if Bush were doing this and Paul sued him you would be all for it. It would be consistent with the misgivings that many liberals had when they were trying to pass the Patriot Act the first time. Being ok with the NSA and drones, to me, demonstrates that it's more important who is in charge and your willingness to trust that person more than the actual issues.
When all of the comments here are about Rand doing this as grandstanding shows that you're not willing to talk about the underlying issue and would rather try to discredit the messenger simply because of his political party.
With regards to my beliefs not being tested, the Patriot Act absolutely tests my beliefs especially since both parties now seem to be very much in favor of this. I saw it before as a violation of our rights and I see it today as a violation of our rights. I hate using quotes but Ben Franklin's is quite apropos for an article like this.
How can you possibly assume that believing Paul's law suit is a publicity stunt equates to being FOR the Patriot Act?
I suggest that you stop making a complete fool out of yourself and re-read the article, tom.
Enlighten me, oh great Rudy, on what I have missed from the article. Considering all of you are making the assumption that this is a publicity stunt, please tell me what information or research you have done to come to that conclusion. Is this something new that Rand Paul has just brought up? Uhhh, no. He has championed this and many of the actions against the Patriot Act since he has been in Congress. Being that his father had the exact same position, I would think that you would give him the benefit of any doubt due to the fact he has always had this stance. But, alas, he is a repub so you know exactly what he's thinking, right?
This clown doesn't represent me in any way. I have a phone and know that I'm not doing anything illegal, but know there are people in the US that are. Rand Paul is an idiot and if he and he colleagues spend as much time working our issues in our country and not try to find fault on every policy that's out, then we would eventually move forward. But, as long as guys like this is in our Congress, then we will continue to fall behind and look stupid in the world's eye. FRP!
"Fair! Please have some fun and read Rudy's comments in the other Rand Paul story."
I did. Sometimes it's best to just shake your head.
And likewise civilgeek, just because a bazooka was fired doesn't mean it was fired at you, and it certainly doesn't mean that you were hit.
As long as you blame the previous administration as much if not more than this one, I'm Ok with your 'blame game'. Afterall, it was they who brought the bazooka onto the field in the first place, and it was they who started firing it. You neo-morons were actually bragging about that bazooka back then. Now with a [D] in office you disingenuously revert to playing the 'victim'. Uber-partisan hypocrisy, plain and simple.
He will file the suit once he finds one on Wikipedia he can steal. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure the Administration is safe from his obvious grandstanding....
Where is Rand's suit against the phone companies storing all this data?
where is the suit against the dozens of website services tracking everything you do to serve you ads?
Where is his suit about the marketing databases being sold with profiles about you?
Rand may try and paint a small government imagine, but where money can be made it's a different story.
@Civilgeek – Remind me again where the bill would start to strip the NSA of this mandate?
I like Paul's balls. He's one of the few in congress who hasn't been castrated by the system.
BS politics. Republicans enacted the Patriot act and now sue the guy who inherited it.
I have not one shred of doubt that if a Romney won the last election, all of this anti government BS from Republicans would stop the very second he was inaugurated.
Why has CNN.com buried this story in the political section? Why have I not heard any coverage of this story on NPR? This story is big national legal news, not political news.
Frivalous lawsuits are a mantra of d gop. Stop and ask for papers in Arizona. Stop and frisk of minorities in nyc? The Patriot Act 1&2??? All republican measures which are obvious privacy rights violations but legal rulings allow because of crooked sell out republicans.
if the media ever decides to drop support for obama…he will be history. Beware though, when public opinion changes, and it can turn on a dime, the stuff is on the fan…and the media will follow. Nixon had soooo much weight against him, no one could save him. And, obama has much more illegal/immoral governance than Nixon would have imagined.
I see the gop strategy as claim exactly what they have done and blame it on the president. This is exactly whathitler did to come to power. He tricked his loyal followers (talk radio/Rush) to support him at all costs and the end would justify the means. History repeats itself so which are you going to follow?
Obama and his cronies should be put in jail
I applaud what Paul is doing in making people aware of the issue. But suing the president makes no sense when you are a law maker and when both parties are having second thoughts about the NSA then as a law maker you have the advantage to change the NSA and their policies or pressure the president since some in congress agree that there needs to be changes. This suing the president move makes no sense.
Who initiated the NSA surveillance capability of phone records............Bush or Obama? So why not sue the person who initiated the program? or congress for not passing a law outlawing this policy?
Why has CNN.com buried this story in the political section?
Because it is a cheap political ploy and we can all see that. On the main CNN page there is no "legal" section to click on. "buried" – Sorry that is not even a good attempt at a conspiracy theory.
Who's representing this clown? Larry Klayman?
I am a Ted Cruz supporter. However, I applaud Rand Paul if, for no other reason, prompting the establishment Republicans headed by Congressman Peter King to go absolutely ballistic over the new regime pushing them aside and then acting on behalf of the citizens.
Peter King's insatiable desire for power and his obvious fear of being displaced represents all that is wrong with the Rove/Jeb Bush/Haley Barbour Party Boss-directed legislators.
It is a stunt to up his cred before 2016. Since Congress approved the Patriot Act (though Rand was the only GOP senator holdout who opposed it), is he suing all of Congress who passed the law too? And it was not proposed by Obama, it was championed and passed in 2001 under GWB.
And we thought the GOP hated the ABA. Of course, druggers and Viagra stricken fools like Boss Hogg hire the best lawyers that money can buy since they're in and out of court so often!
jerrylax......You lost, Obama won again, move on.....