WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), flanked by fellow Republicans and representatives of civil liberties organizations, announced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program at a press conference Thursday.
"We’re here today to announce that we will be challenging the constitutionality of a court order that collects all Americans’ cell phone data all of the time," Paul told reporters and news cameras in the upper floor of the Capitol Hill Club.
Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald first revealed last week a secret court order allowing the NSA to harvest cell phone data from millions of Verizon customers. The report set off a firestorm of criticism from civil libertarians who accused the agency of illicitly snooping on Americans.
However, defenders of the program say the surveillance has helped thwart terrorist attacks and is minimally intrusive.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Gary Schmitt, a former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former executive director of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board during President Ronald Reagan's second term, said there is nothing unconstitutional about the program.
"Sen. Paul needs to bone up on his constitutional precedents and history," Schmitt said. "There's nothing in Supreme Court decisions or previous Republican or Democratic positions that suggest getting this kind of data violates the Fourth Amendment."
At the news conference, Paul said the order was "clearly beyond the scope of the Fourth Amendment."
Paul encouraged anyone with a cell phone who wants to be part of the lawsuit to go RandPac.com. He said more than 250,000 people have already signed up.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also filed a lawsuit against the NSA.
"The day of closed door briefings and secret orders must end," said Laura Murphy, the director of the ACLU’s legislative office in D.C.
Paul said it is not yet clear whether his lawsuit will piggyback on the ACLU’s suit or if it is even possible to file such a large class-action suit against the government, but he said his office is exploring the possibilities.
Paul was joined at Thursday’s news conference by an unlikely alliance of Republican congressmen, civil liberties groups, and conservative organizations.
Reps. Thomas Massie (R., Ky.), Justin Amash (R., Mich.), Louie Gohmert (R., Texas), and Mick Mulvaney (R., S.C.), as well as newly elected Rep. Mark Sanford (R., S.C.), stood alongside the ACLU, FreedomWorks, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Campaign for Liberty, the organization of Paul’s father.
"You may have thought I was someone else because I’m standing beside to the ACLU," Gohmert joked. "It’s said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. Well this isn’t politics. It’s an invasion of rights."
Organizers also tried to woo Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), who has been a staunch critic of the NSA program, but he declined.
FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe announced his group has launched the website LindseysPassword.com, which contains a petition calling on Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a staunch defender of the NSA, to release his email password.
"Sen. Lindsey Graham recently asserted that violating the Fourth Amendment to implement warrantless government surveillance is not only acceptable, it’s welcomed," Kibbe said at the news conference. "If we’re not talking to terrorists, we have nothing to worry about," Respectfully, senator, we ask you to lead by example and make your email account password available to the American people. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about. Right?"
Paul also introduced legislation last Thursday, titled the "Fourth Amendment Restoration Act," which would require the federal government to obtain a warrant before searching Americans’ phone records.
Critics remain skeptical of the civil libertarians’ arguments.
"I can't think of any agency’s activity that's more scrutinized than what NSA does when it comes to collecting data inside America," Schmitt said. "This is about as scrubbed an effort as is possible. On top of that, Congress has reauthorized the law on a number of occasions."