By Alexander Bolton - 02/12/14 12:41 PM EST
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration for violating the privacy rights of millions of Americans.
Paul, a Tea Party star, called it the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.
“We will ask the question in court whether a single warrant can apply to the records of every American phone user all the time, without limits, without individualization,” Paul said at a press conference in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Paul, who has circulated a petition to build support for his case, said 386,026 people have expressed support.
“We believe that this lawsuit could conceivably represent hundreds of millions of people who have phones lines in this country or cellphones,” he said.
Paul said the administration’s program directly violates the Fourth Amendment, which he said the nation’s founders wrote in response to the use of generalized warrants by British troops in the colonies.
Paul said the legality of the NSA’s surveillance program must be decided publicly by the Supreme Court, not by a secret federal appeals court, as has been the practice in recent years.
Paul filed the lawsuit as a private citizen. He is being represented by Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who lost the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race against Terry McAuliffe (D).
At issue is the NSA’s collection of metadata for millions of phone calls. Under the program, the agency stores information about numbers dialed and the length of calls but not the substance of the conversations.
The lawsuit seeks immediate injunctive relief that would force the NSA to cease its surveillance program and purge the records it has collected over the past five years. It does not address the agency’s surveillance of foreign leaders or monitoring of foreign email traffic.
“The court’s going to order these folks to stop doing what they’re doing, taking phone records, keeping them and searching them,” Cuccinelli said.
He noted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has authorized the NSA’s broad activities with ex parte decisions based solely on the one-sided arguments of the intelligence community. One of the reforms proposed by congressional critics of the surveillance program is to establish a public advocate to challenge the NSA’s requests in the secret court.
“There was no one to argue the other side. There was no one to defend the Constitution vigorously, to defend the constitutional rights of the Americans’ information swept up in this program vigorously,” he said.
Paul argued Wednesday there is no evidence a single terrorist has been caught or detained uniquely because of the metadata program.
He says intelligence officials should obtain individualized warrants for tracking phone data.
“I’m not against looking at phone records. I just want you to go to a judge, have a person’s name and individualize a warrant,” he said.
Cuccinelli said the lawsuit would be the first certified class-action challenge to the NSA’s program based on the Fourth Amendment and that he expects the Supreme Court to rule on it. He predicted the legal challenge could take several years to be resolved.
He noted that federal courts have only just begun weighing the constitutionality of the surveillance program.
“We hope that when this path is all done, and we’re at the end of it, we’ll have pushed the federal government back across the line of trampling the Constitution yet again,” he said.
A judge is expected to be named to the case in the next few days.