Secret Court and Rand Paul Face Off Over Domestic Spying

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

NSA gets green light to continue collecting U.S. call logs and the 2016 presidential hopeful announces a class action lawsuit to stop it.

A secret federal court has greenlighted the government's continued collection of call logs from millions of Americans, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper disclosed on Friday, as demands for the program’s abolishment reached new heights.

Later on Friday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential 2016 presidential contender, said he will file a class action lawsuit against the government to stop the surveillance. 

DNI officials had attempted to preempt such blowback when they announced the court's blessing. They made promises to declassify the court order and consider a recommendation to shift data collection to private companies. 

"In light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, DNI Clapper has decided to declassify and disclose publicly that the government filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking renewal of the authority to collect telephony metadata in bulk, and that the court renewed that authority on Jan. 3," DNI Public Affairs Director Shawn Turner said in a statement. 

Paul announced his lawsuit on Fox News later in the day and posted a signup sheet on his Senate campaign website for aggrieved citizens. Basically anyone in the United States with a cell phone would be eligible to participate in the litigation, he claims.

Under the National Security Agency program, records detailing citizen and foreign national calls, including phone numbers, time stamps and durations of conversations, are harvested to detect possible plots and conspirators. So much data is being gathered that NSA needs to open at least two more data centers in Maryland and Utah for storage and backup.

Last month, a White House-appointed review panel called for an end to the hoarding, citing the program’s potential to chill free speech and invade privacy. The panel members advised officials to outsource collection activities to phone companies or a private entity. 

As part of yet another fight against phone monitoring, the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday appealed a Dec. 27 decision by U.S. District Judge William Pauley that upheld the program.  His opinion described the effort as a "counter-punch" to al-Qaeda's terror network that is continuously monitored by the secret court. The court reviews it every 90 days.

The Obama administration remains committed to the effort, based on recent comments. Turner on Friday said the Justice Department has contested a separate Dec. 16 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon that found the call log program unlawful, haphazard and intrusive. 

But Turner signaled the White House’s willingness to make some adjustments in line with the panel’s suggestions. "The intelligence community continues to be open to modifications to this program that would provide additional privacy and civil liberty protections while still maintaining its operational benefits," he said. "The administration is carefully evaluating the recommendation of the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies regarding transitioning the program to one in which the data is held by telecommunications companies or a third party."