(CNN) – Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday he’s suing President Barack Obama and top national security officials over the government’s sweeping electronic surveillance program made public by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
The Kentucky Republican and the conservative group FreedomWorks are filing a class-action challenge against the government’s phone metadata collection effort, which stores the numbers and call times of phone calls.
“I think that we will be heard and I think that we have a very strong argument,” Paul, a potential presidential contender in 2016, said on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront on Wednesday.
He acknowledged that the generally large composition of the class could complicate the case.
“But we didn’t define the class,” he said. “This is defined by the arrogance of government that has decided that the Fourth Amendment really allows a warrant to be written for everybody’s phone records. It shows the enormity and the egregiousness of the government’s intrusion.”
The suit also names National Intelligence Director James Clapper, outgoing NSA Director Keith Alexander, and FBI Director James Comey.
“We don’t do this out of disrespect to anyone,” Paul said earlier Wednesday at a news conference in Washington. “We do this out of respect to the Constitution and out of belief that these decisions cannot be made in secret by a secret court but that they need to be made in open by the Supreme Court.”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs and class members want a declaration that bulk metadata collection is unconstitutional, an end to it, and an order to purge stored data that’s related to plaintiffs and class members.
“Americans do not like to think of their government as some Orwellian leviathan, engaging in surveillance tactics that we only expect to see in oppressive autocracies,” Paul writes in an opinion piece for CNN.com. “That such surveillance could be going on in what is ostensibly the freest nation in the world is a chilling thought indeed.”
A firebrand in the Republican Party whose brand of conservatism embraces Libertarian ideals, Paul is an ardent critic of U.S. surveillance programs, which he says infringe on basic civil liberties under the Constitution.
“I think there really is a question of privacy here, protecting privacy,” Paul told CNN.
“I would say that this example of this being 300 million people being affected really illustrates the problem that we have a generalized warrant, not a specific warrant.”
Ken Cuccinelli, a former Republican attorney general in Virginia who lost the state’s gubernatorial election last November, is serving as lead counsel. Cuccinelli predicted the lawsuit will pan out over several years.
“When the Supreme Court finally rules on these questions, Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights will be vindicated and we will prevail,” he said.
Snowden’s leaks to the media last year about NSA collection of telephone and e-mail data outraged Libertarians, privacy advocates and many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.
They considered it government overreach in the fight against terrorism.
Opinion: Stop the NSA while we still can
Americans nationwide are split on the issue. A Quinnipiac University survey from last month indicated that 48% of registered voters support the metadata program, compared to 47% who oppose the data collection. Five percent said they’re unsure or have no opinion.
Obama has defended the programs, but announced modest reforms to NSA’s practices last month. While access to the metadata will be tightened and possibly shifted from the NSA to elsewhere, the collection and storage of the metadata will still continue.
“As we’ve said previously we believe the program as it exists is lawful,” Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Wednesday in a statement to CNN. “Indeed, it has been found to be lawful by multiple courts. And it receives oversight from all three branches of government, including the Congress.”
In Obama’s speech at the Justice Department last month, the President revealed new guidance for intelligence-gathering as well as changes intended to balance what he called the nation’s vital security needs with concerns over privacy and civil liberties.
Paul joins a number of anti-NSA activists who are unsatisfied with the proposed changes.
CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said there are many procedural problems with the kind of suit brought by Paul.
On CNN’s Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield, Toobin said that “you have to prove that you were injured” and the government is likely to argue that neither Paul nor any of the other plaintiffs can prove that was the case or that even their calls were monitored.
But Toobin argued the underlying issue about whether the program is constitutional or not “is certainly a real one.”
Cuccinelli disagreed with Toobin.
“If you use a phone–and both my clients do–then they are injured by the gathering of this information,” he said at the press conference.
“Standing is not my greatest legal concern here,” he continued. “It is getting to the merits and winning on the merits.”