A class action lawsuit has been filed against the US government over its phone surveillance via the National Security Agency. The plaintiffs are Republican tea party Senator Rand Paul and a conservative lobby group.
Outspoken tea party Senator Rand Paul (pictured) and the libertarian group FreedomWorks filed a class action lawsuit late Wednesday against President Barack Obama and other top US officials.
The suit alleges that the National Security Agency (NSA) violates the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution by collecting so-called metadata on hundreds of millions of Americans without first obtaining individualized court permission.
That amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
The lawsuit names Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA director Keith Alexander and FBI chief James Comey as defendants.
"I am not against the NSA, I'm not against spying. I'm not against looking at phone records," Paul said. "I just want you to go to a judge, have a person's name, and (get) a warrant."
'Open' discussion sought in court
Wednesday's filing at the US District Court in Washington first seeks an injunction to pause the program, followed by a court ruling to stop it and delete five years of accumulated records.
Paul said the case should proceed to the US Supreme Court to trigger a "discussion in open" and not leave rulings to a Washington-based secret court that handles intelligence warrants, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
Obama had refused to stop a "clear and continuing" constitutional violation, Paul said.
A similar lawsuit was filed in Germany in early February.
Justice Department 'confident'
In reply, the US Justice Department said it was "confident that the Section 215 telephone metadata program is legal, as at least 15 judges have previously found."
Section 215 refers to the counter-terrorism Patriot Act passed after the September 11, 2001 attacks by aircraft hijackers on New York and Washington.
President Obama recently called for reforms of the NSA's mass surveillance which was disclosed last year by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has temporary asylum in Moscow.
Co-plaintiff Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, said the US government had "crossed a line" by spying on Americans, regardless of the level of suspicion.
Paul said he had collected more than 300,000 signatures from people keen to join the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, some of the most widely used websites in the US banded together to protest the NSA's surveillance of web traffic.
The campaign, dubbed The Day We Fight Back, is backed by more than 5,000 sites such as reddit.com and Tumblr as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Amnesty International.
Reporters without Borders warned on Wednesday that the US practices gave the wrong signal to undemocratic countries.
Secret US court
The FISC, created in 1978, regularly and secretly approves NSA programs, enabling it to store and use data without having to request warrants for each data search.
The court also grants individual warrants to investigate a suspect in the United States and seize that person's communications.
ipj/jlw (dpa, APF, AP)