A Philadelphia couple and an activist lawyer have filed the first class action lawsuit against Verizon Communications and the federal government over the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Verizon customers’ phone records.
The class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in D.C., names President Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the director of the NSA and the CEO of Verizon as defendants. Also being sued is the NSA, the U.S. Department of Justice, and Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – who signed the secret order directing Verizon to turn over all phone records “on an ongoing daily basis.”
The plaintiffs are calling the domestic spy operation an “outrageous breach of privacy” and a violation of Verizon users’ “reasonable expectation of privacy, free speech and association, right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process rights,” according to the complaint.
The class action lawsuit was originally spearheaded solely by Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch and a vocal critic of the Obama Administration. Philadelphia couple Charles and Mary Anne Strange joined the case on Sunday.
Their son Michael, a U.S. Navy SEAL, was killed along with other 21 other SEAL Team 6 members and 6 National Guardsmen when their helicopter was shot down by terrorist Taliban jihadists in Afghanistan in 2011. They claim in the class action lawsuit that their phone records were accessed and their phones tapped after they became vocal in their criticism of President Obama and the U.S. military regarding the circumstances of their son’s death.
“Somebody has to be held accountable for my son’s death. Thirty brave Americans, the biggest loss in the Afghan war. And that’s when I started asking questions, that’s when my phone got tapped,” Mr. Strange said in an interview.
Strange claims he heard tapping noises on his phone and started receiving odd texts shortly after his son’s death. When he called Verizon to inquire “who’s this?” he claims he was told “it’s somebody listening in from the United States, and someone from Afghanistan.”
The class action lawsuit challenges the legality of the NSA’s “secret and illegal government scheme to intercept and analyze vast quantities of domestic telephone communications.”
“They weren’t going after individual terrorists, they were going after the entire American public,” Klayman told reporters.
Klayman and the Stranges are seeking to represent a nationwide class of all American citizens in the United States and overseas who are current subscribers or customers of Verizon at any time, including but not limited to April 25, 2013 to July 19, 2013.
They are seeking a cease-and-desist order to prohibit the collection of Verizon customers’ phone records and more than $3 billion in damages and attorney fees.
It is the first class action lawsuit to be filed after the Guardian disclosed last week that Verizon had been secretly ordered to hand over call data from millions of customers to the NSA as part of a secret anti-terrorism program code-named PRISM. Klayman says he plans to file a second lawsuit against Facebook, Google, Microsoft and six other companies over their alleged complicity in granting the NSA access to their servers as part of the program.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently announced he plans to file a class action lawsuit over the “unconstitutional” surveillance program, but has not yet done so.
A spokesman for Verizon says Klayman’s case “is without merit.” There was no immediate comment from the Department of Justice.
The case is Klayman, et al. v. Barrack Hussein Obama II, et al., Case No. 13-cv-00851, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
UPDATE: The Verizon NSA Surveillance Class Action Lawsuit is being appealed. The plaintiffs filed a nearly identical class action lawsuit, without Verizon as a defendant, on Jan. 23, 2014 in an attempt to speed up legal proceedings. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against the NSA to stop its “chilling” surveillance of U.S. citizens’ communications until the Supreme Court rules on whether or not it is constitutional.
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