WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator Rand Paul on Thursday encouraged Americans to be part of a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government for its vast domestic surveillance program his latest salvo against the Obama administration’s national security measures.
Paul, a Tea Party favorite who is seen as a contender for the 2016 presidential race, announced his plans at a news conference that brought together the American Civil Liberties Union and outspoken Republicans including Representatives Louie Gohmert and Justin Amash.
“Americans are rightly concerned about having all of their phone records collected and monitored all the time,” Paul said. “We will be challenging the constitutionality of the court order that collects all of Americans’ cellphone data.”
Paul said 250,000 people already have signed up on his political action committee’s website to take part in the suit. He invited others to do the same and said he hopes to have millions as party to a lawsuit, although he said he did not know the exact mechanics of pursuing such a suit.
Paul’s latest concern about government surveillance comes after it was revealed the National Security Administration received secret court approval to collect a vast log of phone calls made by Verizon customers. Paul said he suspects this is happening on every carrier.
Relying on documents from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post last week exposed the U.S. government effort to monitor phone and Internet data at big companies such as Google Inc and Facebook Inc.
Reports of the spy programs have renewed the debate about the balance between privacy rights and security concerns in the United States in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The revelations have united people who might not normally be political allies. Gohmert, a conservative Republican, joked about being aligned with Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office.
“It’s said that politics makes for strange bedfellows,” Gohmert said. “Well, this isn’t politics. This is an invasion of rights.”
The action from Paul and others follows a lawsuit the ACLU filed on Tuesday, which claims the U.S. government’s collection of vast communications records violates rights to free speech and privacy as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Paul has built a reputation for his nonconformist ideals and some isolationist foreign policy positions.
In March, Paul conducted a filibuster to block the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the CIA, holding the floor for nearly 13 hours in protest of U.S. drone policies.
Paul said he would end the filibuster when he received an answer about whether the Obama administration would use drones domestically, although he did not receive an answer until hours after the filibuster ended.
Reporting By Matt Haldane; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Bill Trott