June 6th, 2013
11:34 AM ET
11 months 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. jimmy

    great...nice to know both major parties don't give a crap about our constitutional rights. as long as senators say it's ok, it must be ok. now bury the story and go back to sensationalizing the latest rainstorm...or maybe the latest comic-book-cgi-blowing-stuff-up movie.

    June 6, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. LIbertarian

    Obama is just as much at fault as bush. He signed a ten year extension to the law in 2011. He could have ended it, but kept it

    June 6, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  3. Frank

    Produces results!?

    -------- SO DOES WATER BOARDING! --------

    Only problem with both of these methods is its AGAINST FEDERAL LAW AND THE U.S. CONSTITUTION! To have "SENATORS"condoning it is so ridiculous you would expect to see something like on Saturday Night Live!

    June 6, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  4. rs

    Fair is Fair

    Obama Supporter

    If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.
    ---
    Didn't Himmler say the very same thing?
    ___________
    And so did Ashcroft when the USA PATRIOT Act passed.,

    June 6, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  5. Victor

    October 26, 2001 was the day terrorists really hurt America, not September 11, 2001.

    June 6, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  6. Frank

    Its been effective? So is Water Boarding!

    June 6, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. Bill

    Lagos, Obama just did ask for repeal of the Patriot Act. Or didn't you listen to his speech stating that we should go back to pre-911?

    June 6, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  8. Josh

    making it lawful doesnt it make it right

    June 6, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  9. Dave Seavy

    It's true that – if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. I agree. But that isn't most citizen's points. We're watching our Constitution and Bill of Rights being voided out in the name of security. The Patriot Act is nothing more than a way for the government to skirt legal procedures and circumvent the protections we're supposedly guaranteed. All any pencil neck has to do is claim it's in furtherance of national security, and some gullible (or on the take) judge will sign off on it. The fact that congress was briefed is of little comfort; they're all about as crooked as a dog's hind leg, and will go along with just about anything, so long as their perks and cash cows keep producing.

    There are plenty of terrorists in the USA – and the vast majority hold elected offices. The rest have been appointed by those in elected offices. Their destruction is far more reaching than 9/11 or Boston.

    June 6, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  10. rs

    Republicans: This is the world YOU built under Bush. Thanks for waking up!

    June 6, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  11. John

    Consider the source...Dianne Feinstein would support installing cameras in public restrooms. She's the queen of violating constitutional rights.

    June 6, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  12. smc

    Well, on the plus side, if the NSA had to build satellites and computing resources to capture all this data, they'd be spending billions of taxpayer dollars on it. Instead, they can make the phone companies hand it over, neatly formatted.

    Just look at it as a huge cost savings for us taxpayers. ;)

    June 6, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  13. Matt

    To all of you trying to turn this into an political debate: this isn't the time for finger pointing. This is the time when all American need to stand united and demand change. This needs to be fixed and right now!

    June 6, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  14. John Yaya

    If I were verizon I would "accidentally leak" all of the data they would give to the feds online as well in defiance of this bs ruling. What is the government going to do? Pull verizon's charter? I don't think so. Our government is ruled by corporations and verizon is a huge one.

    June 6, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  15. Paul

    "Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves." – Ronald Reagan

    June 6, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  16. JCDavis

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

    Of course, if suspicions develop, then a specific warrant can be obtained for the actual conversations recorded by NSA. It's a marvelous bit of bootstrapping to get around the 4th amendment.

    June 6, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  17. jnpa

    The people who are commenting on here about our rights being taken away and the government being a dictatorship will be the same ones who would complain the loudest when this country is attacked by terrorists. They want the government to protect them on their terms. Well folks, you can't have it both ways!

    June 6, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  18. richunix

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
    ― Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the life & writings of Benjamin Franklin

    June 6, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  19. cw

    Bobo, revisionist history much? The NSA built a database during the Bush Administration consisting of MILLIONS of cell phone calls. Are you saying the US has millions of potential terrorists? This program is NO different than the one implemented under Bush. Both are awful and completely unconstitutional.

    June 6, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  20. Goblin King

    Come on everyone calm down. We need a pervasive surveillance state to keep us safe. We have to destroy the constitution in order to protect our freedoms.

    June 6, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  21. Guess

    Hey sniffit, am i the only one who thinks juust sayin, fair is fair, is been very busy today, i mean really, who would actually come on here and voluntraily admit to agree with him? there just cant be that many blind sheeple can there? please lord, give me strenght. everything that tool says is an absolute lie. my two teenage boys are not this trying

    June 6, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  22. cedar rapids

    'Sam – OK, stop already. THIS did NOT originate under GW Bush. That's ignorant......CNN appears to highlight the MOST ignorant posts. Why am I not surprised.'

    'As far as I know this is the exact three month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years.'

    NOTE: SEVEN years. Now tell us again how this did not originate under Bush?

    June 6, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  23. concerned citizen

    Fear makes society give up their freedoms in the name of safety. By allowing this we have already lost to the "terrorists." We are told that they are jealous of our freedoms and lifestyles, yet we readily give them up in the name of safety. If you wish to really fight the "terrorist", fight for policies to be shifted back to the way they were before Sept. 11, 2001. There will always be bad people; no law will ever fix that.

    June 6, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  24. sne

    Government trying take more power over us in its hands. Why they need to spy 120 millions customers if recently feds can not handle Boston bombers? Information was providing to them directly from Russia and our agency missed it anyway and we all know the sad result.
    I think spying US residents could be used inappropriately use by government against political opposition.

    June 6, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  25. jp

    ====
    If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.
    ====
    You trust human's way too much. It really doesn't matter if you have anything to hide or not. The fact is what you say can be used in ways that are harmful to you. For example, let's say you disagree with the current president, rep. or dem. and you express that on the phone. Now someone on the other end, i.e., conducting surveillance, doesn't like what you say so they decide to use that information against you, i.e., leak it out or twist it.

    This is not imagination speaking, this type of stuff has historically occurred.

    June 6, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
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