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. JusDav

    of course spying works, so does torture.....just sayin
    cheers
    JusDav

    June 6, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  2. retphxfire

    How can something be lawful when it's based on an Unconstitutional act...the Patriot Act?

    June 6, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  3. geckopelli

    I I'd rather deal with terrorist than give my freedom to the elitist running this country.
    As a matter of fact, the only effect "terrorist" have had on me is forcing me to put up with the over re-action of self-gratifying politicians.

    June 6, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  4. Guess

    Stupid gop, cant be honest with yourselves huh?to bad, we cant get rid of the problem til you do

    June 6, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. Phaerisee

    I grew up in a GOP household and the mantra I heard over and over was "watch out for big government, because eventually they will take away our freedoms in the name of safety and security." That is why it is so puzzling to me that the staunchest advocates of these polices are in fact, Republicans.

    June 6, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. YUCK

    I think it's a good idea.

    June 6, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  7. James Black

    I think we the public should get to see the governments "metadata" so we know just what companies and lobbying groups are running the show.

    June 6, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  8. Overreach Is Not OK

    Who are the Senators kidding? This is exactly what Alex Jones of Infowars.com and world-wide broadcaster has been talking about! The overreaching of government into people's lives in the name of terror which may not always be the case for this intrusion. Goodbye Fourth Amendment rights.

    June 6, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. regenesis0

    Fight tooth and nail to prevent the creation of a handgun ownership database - "Oh, you want to know everyone I ever talk to and when I talk to them secretly without a court order? Sure!"

    (Mind you, I think neither should exist.)

    June 6, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  10. ART

    Chambliss also said that it was due to the terrorist hormones, it makes them want to attack

    June 6, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  11. JJ

    Good we can start with Feinstein's husband and find out how he got in the middle of buying all of the excess post office buildings.
    Isn't this the same lady who is staunchly against guns yet SHE CARRIED A CONCEAL WEAPON FOR YEARS???

    Good, lets' start with her and her husband's phone records .

    After all, these are internal (within the U.S.) searches.

    June 6, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  12. Mike

    If any of us had any idea how many terrorist attacks that have been stopped from intel gathering like this, you would all just shut the hell up. We, myself included, are all ignorant to the goings on behind closed doors in places like the Pentagon and the Oval Office. I'm sick and tired of people thinking they know everything and they have all the facts. God forbid people go running around the streets of America hacking each other up with meat cleavers, just be happy you can still get on an airplane without major risk of getting hijacked. And just because I mentioned God, doesn't mean I'm religious, its a figure of speech. Just wanted to nip that one in the butt before it got out of control.

    June 6, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  13. Steve Ansley

    If they only get the metadata and not the conversations then how do they know that it is a terrorist on the phone. How could just the metadata from millions of people provide any information about who is calling when most "bad guys" will use burner phones which provide no information about who is calling at all.

    June 6, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  14. VL

    Sorry, guys, the ones who were complaining on this were liberal media on Bush. I guess now they are getting the taste of the medicine. But because it is from Obama, it is okay now? Please.

    June 6, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  15. Malory Archer

    So waddaya think righties – should President Obama abolish the Patriot act? What would you say if he called a press conference right now and said "as of this moment, the Patriot Act is null and void and the Department of Homeland Security is being disbanded"? You and I both know that you'd whine and cry that he hates America and he's not protecting us from "terrists".

    June 6, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  16. Patrick

    George W. Bush enacted this UGLY Law and the GOP keeps it on the books. I shut down my cell phjone. Speak with your wallet and go back to no smartphones and let them track noone.

    June 6, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  17. TheBigT

    It is an act of terrorism by our own government. They should ALL be fired and we can start over.

    June 6, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  18. Name

    Because it was briefed to Congress makes it lawful? Not so much!

    June 6, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  19. Greg

    I think the reason why everybody is so up-in-arms about the Patriot Act is because there is such a huge potential for it to be misused by certain people for nefarious means. This particular bill requires them to first get approval from a FISA court which makes it a little more legal

    June 6, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  20. GI Joe

    All things go thru Congress. ALL things go thru congress.

    June 6, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  21. ed

    Hey sniffit. Give me a name of a republican who is taking phone records. It is really strange how liberals are ok with this breach of privacy.

    June 6, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  22. Fair is Fair

    @ Joe Mama -

    I said civil libertarians, not libertarians. There IS a difference.

    June 6, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  23. Ed

    Hey CNN... Your title blatantly misleads the casual reader. Good Job if your desire is to weaken the nation and increase bickering over trivialities.

    June 6, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  24. SmokeyWaterz

    And what, exactly, did this accomplish?

    June 6, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  25. Pete

    It's lawful because Bush,republicans antiterrorists policies implimented it..Remember the republican created Patriot Act or Homeland Security and how Bushs policies and being delushional as well wanting all phones nationwide tapped..If Bush had his way they'd be check points at state lines as well as search ,seizures with not warrent just a nod from police,military to do it...The ACLU sued if you remember or Bushs antiterrorist policies would have become rule here..Just remember who won this war ,a psychological one and its Osama BinLaden because he promised to make America aware,scared that America,its citizens were vunerable and he won that fight didn't he because as you all know after 9/11 we were scared weren't we and look what security has been implinented since then costing monies we thought we never had...

    June 6, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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