Sen. Rand Paul officially sued the Obama administration Wednesday, on grounds that the National Security Agency's domestic-spying programs violate the Fourth Amendment's protections of U.S. citizens.
The class-action suit has been signed by 186,000 people, but that reflects a small fraction of Americans potentially eligible, Paul said.
"This lawsuit could conceivably represent hundreds of millions of people who have phone lines or cell phones," Paul said in front of the courthouse shortly after filing his suit. "We don't do this out of disrespect for anyone but out of respect for the Constitution."
Paul filed his lawsuit in federal District Court in D.C., naming President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA chief Keith Alexander, and FBI head James Comey as defendants.
Paul said he is not opposed to the NSA or spying in general, but to the use of surveillance activities he believes are warrantless. "I just want you to go to a judge, have a person's name, and individualize the warrant," he said, adding, "That's what the Fourth Amendment says."
The senator from Kentucky had long threatened to file a suit against Obama and others for what he believes are unconstitutional overreaches by the government's surveillance apparatus. He collected signatures for the suit through his RandPAC website, a ploy that some detractors have derided as a clever phishing scheme to build up a subscriber base for future political campaigns.
Several suits have already been filed in federal court challenging the NSA's bulk-telephone-data program, which is authorized under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act and collects the date, duration, and numbers of a call but not its content. But Paul's class-action challenge ostensibly claims that anyone whose phone data is collected in the NSA's sweeps is an injured plaintiff.
Despite skepticism that his claim rests on shaky legal footing, Paul said he expects the case will ultimately earn a review and a victory from the Supreme Court. It seeks immediate relief that would halt the NSA's phone program and eliminate the records the agency has collected during the past five years.
Paul's lead counsel for the case is former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who lost a bid for governor last year to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
This article appears in the February 13, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.