June 6th, 2013
11:34 AM ET
1 year ago

Senate intelligence leaders say phone surveillance is 'lawful'

(CNN) – The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence said Thursday the government's top-secret court order to obtain phone records on millions of Americans was "lawful" and Congress had been briefed on the issue.

"As far as I know this is the exact three month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years. This renewal is carried out by the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court under the business records section of the Patriot Act," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the intelligence committee, told reporters in the Senate gallery. "Therefore it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress."

The four-page order, which The Guardian published on its website Wednesday, requires Verizon to hand over "originating and terminating" telephone numbers as well as the location, time and duration of the calls in the United States - and demands that the order be kept secret.

Feinstein, D-California, said the government can only access the metadata, not the actual conversations that take place on the calls. After the information goes into a database, it can only be used if there is "reasonable and articulate suspicion that the records are relevant and related to terrorist activity."

She said terrorists "will come after us if they can and the only thing that we have to deter this is good intelligence to understand that a plot has been hatched and to get there before they get to us."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the vice chairman and top Republican on the committee, said the surveillance is nothing new. He added it's been "very clear all along through the years of this program" that the information is "simply" metadata and can't be tapped into without approval from the FISA court.

"It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years," he said.

– CNN's Dana Bash, Ted Barrett and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


Filed under: Dianne Feinstein • Saxby Chambliss
soundoff (568 Responses)
  1. rs

    Well of course it is. Remember Bush's USA PATRIOT Act? It is still there, and it is still the tool for listening for terrorists.

    June 6, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  2. just sayin

    the problem here is that the irs has proven to the american people that the government simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing. power is an adictive intoxicant. once you get it, you want more, and more and more. power drunk to do whatever you want, to whoever you want to do it to. our federal government has become exactly what our founding fathers warned us about. unless the american people get this government back under control, the future of our personal freedom looks bleak.

    June 6, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  3. Gary

    "Senate Select Committee On Intelligence"
    I just can't see the words Senate and Intelligence being in the same sentence.

    June 6, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  4. Donna

    rs
    Well of course it is. Remember Bush's USA PATRIOT Act? It is still there, and it is still the tool for listening for terrorists
    -–

    Wrong as usual. It is now the Obama Patriot Act as he signed it into law again.

    June 6, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  5. dixie

    It is time to take away this law and the NSA. They are going way out of the need for info. If there is no indication of wrong doing there is no constitutional reason to know how we spend time on the phone or with whom. It goes against my rights and I don't like it. This administration is broken. It has more leaks than a broken cup. How much longer does it get to go on? Time to clean up the mess before the world starts to laugh.

    June 6, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  6. Ed1

    Hope you phone is tapped.

    By doing this Verizon will loss a ton of business starting with mine this wasn't in my contract so good bye.

    Our Government is just plain down right sorry what's next taping our bathrooms.

    June 6, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  7. TNPatriot

    "Just Sayin" Were you just born? The IRS has been used by presidential administrations for more than 50 years. Ike, did, so did Kennedy, Johnson and most flagrantly by Nixon. This incident pales by caparison to the abuse and tactics used by the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

    June 6, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  8. John Maroney

    Lawful? Yes. Right? No. The government doesn't deserve this much power. I'd be fine with them doing this with people they suspect might be a threat, but the whole country? Hell no.

    June 6, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  9. Steve

    Calling it lawful doesn't make it right.

    June 6, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  10. Brandon

    I would rather have an isolated terrorist attack every few years then live in a police state where my calls and locations are monitored and feel like big brother is always watching over my shoulder.

    June 6, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  11. Saboth

    You know what is great about laws and democracy? If you don't like them, you can change them. So what, they are lawful. The American people don't like this invasion of privacy that goes against our Constitutional rights. So amend the laws to reflect the will of the people.

    June 6, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  12. are122

    I guess all the terrorists chose Verizon, eh. There always seems to be a good excuse for a bad idea...and it always seems to be in government. The government is out of control. That was made evident when they exempted themselves from the health care forced on everyone else.

    June 6, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  13. neal

    her,pelosi...McCain,,,Boehner...McConnell....newer younger face's are needed in dc..not the same old cronies.

    June 6, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  14. Mike

    Never trust the government!!!!! If you do you are a fool, or not paying attention. I smell a revoltion coming....and it smells good!!!!!

    June 6, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  15. Laurie in Spokane

    Whether phone spying is lawful or not, it's still wrong. One expects to have privacy in phone calls, and only, and I mean ONLY when there's good evidence someone is conducting illegal business using phone lines is it OK to wiretap or review the phone records.

    June 6, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. coyoteliberty

    You can't call it "Bush's patriot act".

    As for those of you who say this is really Bush's fault because he pushed through the Patriot Act and this is a result of that, I call B S. One) The patriot Act was a resurrection of a major crime and surveillance bill that Ted Kennedy was pushing for years; Two) like the IRS harassment scandals, this was started during and signed off on by The Obama Administration and Three) Obama had a chance to let the patriot Act expire. Not only did he push HARD to get it extended he aggressively lobbied to get even more power under it.

    Obama owns this one, folks. With everyday that passes, he is more fully exposed as a totalitarian statist.

    June 6, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  17. Norm

    I love how so-called "liberals" throw their all their personal freedom vs Big Brother propaganda out the window when the lure of Big Government comes around.

    June 6, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  18. tony

    BUt you can't stop a teenager from holding Boston hostage? All its gunless citizens cowered down fearing a teenager. WOW

    June 6, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  19. Meka

    Republicians say "DO AS I SAY... NOT AS I DO!

    June 6, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  20. rs

    the problem here is that the irs has proven to the american people that the government simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing. power is an adictive intoxicant.
    _______________________
    OR, that anti-government, anti-tax groups applying for 501 (c) 4 status as "social welfare groups" (sorry, I always laugh at that when I think of the GOP/TP!) are simply incredibly stupid if they think they any federal agency would accept the "birther" people at their word.
    c'mon, grow up. The REAL crime here is the scam the TEA Parties perpetrated. "Social welfare groups" yeah, no politics at all!

    June 6, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  21. Mark Mann

    Outlets like CNN are to cowardly to compare the Obama administration and the Stalin regime. But the similarities are obvious. Wake up America. Obama is destroying our very culture.

    June 6, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  22. Rudy NYC

    Yup, it's legal. Bush used to do more than collect metadata. He used it to identify phone numbers to tap in, and listen to the conversations. If you think this is bad, then you folks really don't know just how far the Patriot Act goes.

    June 6, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  23. Truth

    Let's just take Feinstein's word that it is legal. After all, she thinks infringing on your second amendment rights is also legal...what a joke.

    June 6, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  24. Sherri

    This is nothing short of what Nazi Germany did and look how many went along with that. This is a very slippery slope we have gone down. You don't have to even be suspected of doing anything. They will just collect the data from whoever they want. And use it however they want. Look out because in 10 years it will be your health records, financial records, education records etc and there will not be one thing you can do about it. It's already happening in some levels.

    June 6, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  25. rs

    Donna

    rs
    Well of course it is. Remember Bush's USA PATRIOT Act? It is still there, and it is still the tool for listening for terrorists
    -–

    Wrong as usual. It is now the Obama Patriot Act as he signed it into law again.
    _______________
    Donna, really.... Under what President was the USA Patriot Act written? What Attorney General oversaw that Bill?
    Your areguments are kindergarten at best.

    June 6, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
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