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Rand Paul files suit against Obama, NSA Wednesday

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is filing a class action lawsuit against President Obama over the NSA's collection of phone data. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) and Matt Kibbe, president of the conservative organizing group FreedomWorks, are filing a class action lawsuit against President Obama and other members of his administration over the National Security Agency's collection of phone metadata, a practice they believe violates the Fourth Amendment. In a YouTube video released Tuesday, Paul compared the government surveillance to the warrantless searches practiced by the British military prior to American independence.

"The lesson of the American Revolution was that this should never happen again, and yet the NSA's data collection program is the modern equivalent of this practice," Paul says. He later adds, "Paul Revere rode through the streets to tell us the British were coming, not the Americans are coming."

The lawsuit includes Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of National Security Agency Keith Alexander and FBI Director James Comey, as well as Obama, as defendants. Ken Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia who lost a gubernatorial bid in the state in the fall, is the lawsuit's lead counsel. In a statement released by RandPac, the main super PAC supporting the senator and his top issues, he said, "We have assembled a legal team and we expect to be opposed by the vast resources of the federal government, yet I am optimistic that we will prevail, because we are seeking to protect a cornerstone of the Constitution.”

Paul filed the lawsuit at 11 a.m. Wednesday as a private citizen at the D.C. District Court. At a news conference immediately after the filing, Paul, Cuccinelli and Kibbe took questions about the lawsuit, with Cuccinelli addressing the legal details of the case, and Paul framing the targeted legal question posed by the lawsuit -- what does the Fourth Amendment mean in 2014 -- with his larger policy concerns about the NSA, the Patriot Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Paul and Cuccinelli reiterated that the court case only sought to clarify the constitutional meaning of the Fourth Amendment -- a question they hope reaches the Supreme Court. As Paul said, "Ultimately,the Supreme Court will be arbiter of what the Fourth Amendment means." If larger questions about civil liberties emerge over the course of the case, despite its limited scope, however, Paul wouldn't object to that. "We need to be asking these questions ... whether we get to that in the court case I don’t know," he said.

During his political career as one of the most prominent libertarian politicians in office, Paul has made civil liberties one of his chief policy concerns. He is on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, as well as the Foreign Relations committee. FreedomWorks gave Paul a $5,ooo donation in 2012.

The lawsuit will also likely help Paul's reelection bid in 2016 — or a presidential bid if he decided to aim higher. All supporters who sign a petition supporting the NSA lawsuit will go to Paul's campaign database, as shown by reporting from Politico last month. When Paul was asked a question about 2016 during the news conference, he quickly brushed it off. "We’re talking about the court case, not politics," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union is also engaging the NSA through the courts.

“We agree that the NSA’s phone-records program is unconstitutional," said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director, in a statement. "Mass surveillance of this kind infringes not just on privacy rights but on the freedoms of speech and association as well. We’ve advanced these arguments in our own lawsuit against the NSA, and over the next few weeks we’ll make them to a federal appeals court.”