Conservative activist files lawsuit over NSA surveillance

Collection of telephone records violates the US Constitution, the founder of Freedom Watch says

A conservative activist has filed a lawsuit against U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. National Security Agency after news reports that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of a large number of Verizon Communications customers.

Larry Klayman, the founder of watchdog websites Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch and a former DOJ prosecutor, filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, he said in a statement on the Freedom Watch site.

Klayman's lawsuit comes two days after the Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA is collecting phone records from Verizon and other telecom companies and a day after the Guardian and the Washington Post reported that the NSA and the FBI also have access to servers at Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other major providers of Internet services, collecting audio, video, email and other content for surveillance.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Verizon, and Roger Vinson, the judge who signed the order allowing the surveillance.

"Here, there is no doubt that this massive illegal seizure had to be authorized and approved at the highest levels of the executive branch, which necessarily leads to the president, attorney general and the director of the NSA," Klayman said in the website. "These violations of free speech, prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure, and due process rights are unprecedented in American history."

The surveillance violates the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Klayman alleged.

The programs raise questions about the independence of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved the collection of phone records, he added.

"It would appear that Obama and his government yes men know no constitutional bounds, and the courts are no longer independent such that they will protect American citizens from this tyranny," he said.

Obama defended the programs during a press conference in California, saying they are a valuable tool in fighting terrorism. Congress has approved the surveillance programs, and there's constant oversight by courts, he said. The lawmakers and judges who've approved the programs "cherish the Constitution," he said.

The NSA programs reported on this week represent a "modest encroachment" on privacy rights, he said.

Obama said he welcomes a national debate about NSA eavesdropping. The U.S. needs to "strike a balance" between privacy and security, he said. "I think it's important that the American people understand that there are some tradeoffs involved," he said.

Obama, when running for president in 2008, criticized surveillance programs under then-President George Bush. The U.S. public shouldn't have to choose between security and privacy, Obama said then.

Representatives of the DOJ and Verizon didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on the lawsuit.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. Federal Bureau of InvestigationRoger VinsonU.S. District Court for the District of ColumbiaCivil lawsuitsU.S. National Security AgencyEric HolderFreedom WatchBarack ObamaprivacyJudicial WatchLarry Klaymangeorge bushFacebookGoogleMicrosoftsecuritylegalgovernmentU.S. Department of JusticeKeith Alexander

More about BushDepartment of JusticeDOJFacebookFBIGoogleIDGMicrosoftNational Security AgencyNSAVerizonVerizon

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Grant Gross

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place