June 6th, 2013
11:34 AM ET
2 years 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. us_1776

    Yeah, let's just search evey American's house and we might find something criminal somewhere.

    This is EXACTLY what the Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to PREVENT.

    Since Sept 2001 all we have had is a Police State...

    It's time to repeal the unpatriotic Patriot Act...

    .

    June 6, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  2. sam

    why is Obama being blamed for something George W. Bush started? Even before i read it here I knew it was going on. And even when I was a teenager–I'm 40 now–the older folks (my grandparents)talked about being careful what you say on the phone because people could be listening in. But you're shocked? That naive? It's the system...not Obama. He's carrying out his orders.

    June 6, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  3. Netmonger

    @Jim: "Were any of the millions of Americans effected by the court order members of the press?" What? Do you mean 'affected?' 'court order members of the press'.. Uhh.. What is a 'court-order-members-of-the-press? Is it something 'bad'?!? LOL!! 'Dude.. :)

    June 6, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  4. nik green

    "Bona fide" (for want of a better term) terrorist groups *never* use electronic or other mass communication means, for the very reasons apparent in Corbett's report. FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente's admission has surely confirmed this simple fact. Even before the advent of mass digital communications, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), for an example, would employ simple security measures to prevent their plans from becoming known to the British authorities: they would hold operations meetings out in the country, such as in a farmer's barn or a picnic area, or maybe a member's back yard – somewhere where there was no chance of their conversations being bugged. Communication by phone was forbidden to avoid conversations being tapped, and written communications and plans were sent via trusted couriers, to avoid being intercepted in the postal system.

    In today's vastly different communications paradigm, any "real" terrorist group will naturally go to great lengths to avoid using cellphones, landlines, satellite phones, email, bulletin boards, chat rooms or any other form of digital or digitized communications protocol, as well as avoiding the postal service and privately owned organizations such as UPS or FedEx.

    The serial violations of the US Constitution, most specifically the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, clearly has NOTHING to do with fighting terrorism, but instead is more about projection of power by the authorities, and the continuation of transfer of power from we the people to a central authority, in which that central authority will use fear to persuade the pubic to act against their own interests.

    June 6, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  5. Nobody N. Particular

    "Feinstein, D-California, said the government can only access the metadata, not the actual conversations that take place on the calls."

    Who I choose to speak with should also be protected from government intrusion; unless the government goes through Due Process to get a warrant. They will start going after people for just have a conversation with someone who is deemed (again without due process) and enemy of the state.

    June 6, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  6. bla

    Nice to know W. Bush's fourth term is going well I guess.

    June 6, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  7. Tracy

    thanks obama

    June 6, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  8. rs

    Oh For Pete's Sake!

    Not only has Obama, and his cohort of liars, NOT repealed the Patriot Act – HE has signed NDAA giving himself ABSOLUTE power over Americans!
    And it MAY have been lawful to track terrorists – but NOT American people in pursuit of their job!

    You can't whitewash it however you try.
    ______________________________

    You know people it is time for you to wake up. You need to wake up to the REALITY of the America the Republican Party and Bush built in the last decade. Did you really think creating a monstrosity like the USA PATRIOT Act would have no consequences? You and YOUR party did this. Republicans in Congress won't repeal it- it is Presidential power- something they hope to get again- sometime.
    You guys crashed the economy, you guys walked all over the Constitution (and still do with your abortion laws, and antivoting laws), you guys made the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, you guys messed up the environment, said "deficits don't matter"and repealled worker safety and rights and more.
    You're just noticing now how that's working?
    Republicans aren't fit to be dog catchers much less run the greatest country in the world- you all proved it with Bush!
    Maybe if you stop listening to FOX news you might get it- I doubt it, but unless you all get to where the rest of us are- you are doomed to re-live Bush just like "Groundhog day".

    June 6, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. mikes

    So, they're saying that the end justifies the means? Ethically challenged, they are!

    June 6, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  10. jim

    Double standard a guess....

    June 6, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  11. tet1953

    Oh, we'll, as long as it produced results. Crimes.

    June 6, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  12. Just_One

    I am reminded of an old saying: Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean it is not incredibly stupid

    June 6, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. WAKE_UP

    If you cannot see through this transparent lie then i have no hope for you. Obviously all the signs are pointing to a major shift in society. Each day America starts looking more and more like a mega prison. We have drones watching from above without us even knowing! Our calls/ EVERYTHING have been monitored for ages now. WAKE UP PEOPLE. In the past several months there has been 8 films to have come out depicting end of the world, people revolting etc. type scenarios, preconditioning us for whats going to come. Sadly, as i know from experience, the minds of the general population are too far gone with their comfortable lives only worrying about living up to "social norms" having to buy everything they see on tv, wont read a book but will catch the next football game...WAKE UP BEFORE ITS TOO LATE TURN OFF THE TV READ A BOOK

    June 6, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  14. Mike

    If its lawful, then why is it a secret?

    Is the US Media embarrassed? It takes a UK based news organization to tell Americans, what our government is doing to us.
    I guess not, our media's main concern is to keep their corporate masters happy first and foremost.

    And the bull about sacrificing our rights to keep us safe.
    If that was the case why do they need to target ALL AMERICANS?

    I can bet that they are looking for more than just terrorism.....I bet big companies have their hands in the cookie jar and are looking to benefit from this......

    June 6, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  15. Obama Supporter

    If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.

    June 6, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  16. Pam from Iowa

    This originaited under GW Bush, and is still a violation of privacy and civil rights.
    The Patriot Act needs to be repealed.
    Obamacare pales in comparison to this!!!

    June 6, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  17. John Deatherage

    Elected officials that don't respect the constitution should be impeached....

    June 6, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  18. rs

    us_1776

    Yeah, let's just search evey American's house and we might find something criminal somewhere.

    This is EXACTLY what the Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to PREVENT.

    Since Sept 2001 all we have had is a Police State..

    It's time to repeal the unpatriotic Patriot Act.
    __________________
    I would agree- but Republicans will only remind you to be very affraid because of foreigners and terrorism- watch!

    June 6, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  19. Ben Franklin

    It is nice to see that while your rights are being destroyed, some of you will continue to play partisan games. Glad I am dead

    June 6, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  20. Netmonger

    @Joe: I know!! The very same members who will speak out against this supposed injustice, are the ones that voted for it! Cripes.. We went through all this when the Klein document came out, and congress voted to give the telcos immunity. We went through this when the Patriot Act was passed and time after time it was renewed. Republicans voted for the Patriot act! They voted for telco immunity! They praised it and set it was necessary to keep us safe. A Republican president started these programs. If the GOP doesnt come out in defense of this program now, they are going to look completely utterly foolish.

    June 6, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  21. JDinKC

    Notice how some sources are saying they don't get name data. What they don't tell you is that they more than likely subscribe to databases like Lexus/Nexus and other private data sources that list recent name to number mappings. So yeah maybe the phone company isn't saying the current name, but its just a matter of linking other data to get names out of the data.

    June 6, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  22. Daniel Justice

    "It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years," [Senator Chambliss] said. Is this Senator retiring or something? I ask because it's rare to see a Senator lie so brashly.

    June 6, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    Of course they can call it "lawful" when they make up any law they need to support their fascism. And we can see the results it produces *cough* Boston Marathon *cough*.

    June 6, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  24. Tutuvabene

    Chambliss is the same guy who said raging hormones are at least partially responsible for sexual assualts in the military. And we trust him with national security?

    June 6, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  25. ByeByeConstitution

    Land of the "free"... my ass. These people have ERASED our constitution right before our very eyes. Freedom of speech is under assault (remember, THEY have access to your email). Gun rights being tightened up (can you say background checks for bullets in CA?), Illegal search and seizure is now legal (see above article). This is just the beginning folks.

    June 6, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
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