Class-Action Suit Filed Over NSA Phone-Snooping

Days after it was revealed that the National Security Agency had quietly been granted access to phone records of Verizon customers, a couple in Philadelphia has filed against everyone involved, from the NSA to Verizon to Attorney General Eric Holder to President Obama.

The complaint [PDF] was filed late last week in a U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. by the couple, and notorious activist attorney (and former federal prosecutor) Larry Klayman. The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit also happen to be the parents of a Navy SEAL who perished in a 2011 helicopter accident in Afghanistan.

“This is an action for violations of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” reads the complaint, believed to be the first lawsuit filed over this hot-button issue. “This is also an action for violations of privacy, including intrusion upon seclusion, freedom of expression and association, due process, and other illegal acts.”

The purpose of the suit, says the complaint is to challenge “the legality of Defendants’ participation and conduct in a secret and illegal government scheme to intercept and analyze vast quantities of domestic telephone communications.”

The plaintiffs in the case, which was expanded yesterday to a class-action suit, allege they were a target of NSA phone-probing because they “have been vocal about their criticism of President Obama as commander-in-chief, his administration, and the U.S. military regarding the circumstances surrounding the shoot down of their son’s helicopter in Afghanistan.”

In addition to Holder, and Obama, the suit also names as defendants: NSA Director Keith Alexander, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, and Judge Roger Vinson, who signed off on the court order granting the NSA access to Verizon’s records.

The suit seeks $3 billion in damages for the allegedly injured class, which could include more than 100 million Verizon customers, along with requesting the court issue a cease and desist order stopping the surveillance and the expungement of the collected records.

A rep for Verizon tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that the company believes the “case is without merit.”

In a statement, Klayman says the lawsuit is not politically motivated.

“For the issue of the preservation of civil liberties is not a left or right issue, but one for all Americans to rise up and fight for,” he writes. “We cannot allow a ‘Big Brother’, Orwellian government spy on the American people to access their confidential communications to effectively turn ‘citizens into its prisoners.’ That is why this class action lawsuit, which all Verizon users are welcome to join, no matter what their political persuasion, will serve as the vehicle for a second American revolution, one that is carried out peacefully and legally – but also forcefully.”

When the news first broke last week, the Obama administration defended the NSA’s actions, saying that the collected data “allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”

The NSA and the White House have come under even more scrutiny with the subsequent revelation of the Prism program that monitors activity on some of the world’s largest websites and Internet service providers.

While some lawmakers, like Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein, have tried to downplay these programs as necessary and not as invasive as one might think, many others are calling for hearings — and possibly legislative action — in response to the recent revelations.

Another divisive figure is Edward Snowden, the former employee at NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who leaked the details of Prism to the media. Defenders of the NSA say that he is a criminal who has put America’s national security at risk, while others laud him as a hero who pulled back the curtain on our government’s bad behavior.