Can Rand Paul Actually Sue the NSA?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 13 2013 5:27 PM

Rand Paul Wants to Sue the NSA on Behalf of People Being Snooped On. But How?

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a news conference June 13, 2013 at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rand Paul walked behind the podium of the Capitol Hill Club press room and hoisted three phones in the air. Cameramen snap-snip-snapped away. "Americans are rightly concerned about having all of their phone records collected and monitored all of the time!" he said. He'd stop that, as he'd been saying all week, by launching a civil suit against the NSA. As he talked, five House Republicans—Mark Sanford, Mick Mulvaney, Justin Amash, Louie Gohmert, and Tom Massie—filed in to nod their heads.

Everyone agreed that something needed to be filed. But... what, exactly? That wasn't clear, despite assists from representatives of the ACLU and Electronic Freedom Foundation. Paul was going to collect names on his RAND PAC website from anyone who offered them, because "my suspicion is everyone who has a cell phone in America is having their data tracked." Then there would be a rallying around a lawsuit of some kind.

"The mechanics may not be completed at this point," said Paul. "To marry 250,000 people, and I hope millions of people, to a lawsuit, will take some work. We're going to see if it can be one of the existing lawsuits. I need help and assistance from attorneys to explain to me whether or not you can have a class action lawsuit with this many people. Part of it is also to let people know there's a groundswell of people."


I asked Paul how his litigants would prove standing. Just a few months ago, in Clapper v. Amnesty International, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that people who are worried that they are being tracked don't have standing to sue; they "can only speculate as to how the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will exercise their discretion in determining which communications to target." Why? The details are classified.

Paul handed the question to the ACLU's Laura Murphy. "We have greater standing than we ever have before because we have an actual copy of the FISA court's ruling," she said. "We don't have to say we think this data has been turned over to the government. We know this data has been turned over to the government."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.