A Republican senator is to hit president Obama with a lawsuit on Wednesday that aims to halt surveillance by USA spy agencies which have been intercepting private communications both at home and abroad, as revealed by the Edward Snowden leaks.
Entitled 'Rand Paul v. Barack Obama', the Kentucky Senator is asking the Federal court in Washington DC to declare part of the Patriot Act, the legislation signed into law by George W Bush after the 9/11 attacks that enables agencies such as the NSA to monitor private phone calls, unconstitutional. Those named as defendants include the president, FBI director James Comey, director of the NSA General Keith Alexander and director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.
The legal action currently has around 350,000 plaintiffs, with Paul, a staunch libertarian and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, looking to corral many more. In a Fox News interview in December, Paul said that “everybody who has a cell phone would be eligible to become a plaintiff”.
The thrust of Paul’s complaint focuses on the metadata – the bulk phone records collected from American telecommunications companies – routinely collected by the NSA, which includes details such as phone numbers, dates and times of calls.
Several other lawsuits challenging the collection of this metadata are already pending in federal courts across the US. However Paul’s challenge is different in that it’s a class action suit, which means the plaintiff is not only seeking damages for themselves, but also for anyone who has been affected by the perceived wrongdoing.
Speaking to MSNBC, Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University, said of Paul’s suit: "Ostensibly, he could be suing on behalf of all Americans, or all Americans hypothetically affected by these court orders."
Addressing his supporters via a video message on Tuesday, Paul said: "When we learned that the NSA was collecting the phone data of every American last year it posed a serious Constitutional question: Do we no longer have a Fourth Amendment?"
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
In a statement released this week, Paul outlined his case against Obama, arguing that the president has "publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the Fourth Amendment," with the 51-year-old senator expecting the case to go all the way to the US Supreme Court.
The White House has yet to publicly comment on the lawsuit but, in a speech on security given earlier in January, Obama argued that members of the intelligence community "follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people", adding: "They're not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails."
Paul is expected to give a press conference in front of the federal courthouse in the capital after the suit has been filed, with the senator trumpeting his credentials as a defender of the constitution against encroachment of the intelligence services.
However, Paul’s critics, many of whom are from the Republican Party, have lambasted the move, with Peter King going as far as to question the Senator’s place in government.
"The NSA is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing," said King in an interview earlier this month, adding: "To me, he’s either totally uninformed, or he’s part of that ‘hate America’ crowd that I thought left us in the 1960s.
"In any event, he doesn’t deserve to be in the United States Senate for spreading that type of misperception and absolute lies."
The scope of the NSA’s surveillance programme gained international notoriety last June after former NSA contractor Snowden, who is currently in asylum in Russia, released a tranche of classified documents about US and British spying activities.
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