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. Ben Jordan

    It seems they misunderstand our discontent... We KNOW it was lawful. That's precisely what we are upset about.

    June 6, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  2. Leslie Song

    This is why progressives have been protesting the 'patriot act' for years – and conservatives laughed at us – because it takes away fundamental American rights in the name of 'security.' It casts an indiscriminately wide net, invading the constitutionally given right to privacy of Americans, treating us all like criminals. It also gets huge corporations who do NOT have our best interests at heart, involved in surveillance. Who voted for them? That is not democracy. We are now a surveillance state – like China – and if we want to be America again, we are going to have to demand changes in the patriot act NOW.

    June 6, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  3. Big_D

    It's all a big scandal created under Obama according to the GOP. Just like gun walking, they don't care if it started under the one who cannot be named or the GOP cries.

    June 6, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  4. Thunder King

    It's every wireless carrier, not just Verizon! Get your head out the sand!

    June 6, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  5. Say What?

    Just because its "lawful" and briefed to Congress doesnt make it right. This is WRONG. The law needs to be removed or we are surely becoming a police state

    June 6, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  6. glaird

    Ben Franklin: "Those that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.".
    You people (Meaning the majority, that still refuses to wake up.) allowed 'The Patriot Act' to pass without challenge. You refuse to throw incumbents out of office. Then you whine when your privacy is invaded with phone taps.

    June 6, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  7. tony

    The Patriot Act was and still is, the Victory over the US that Al-Queda wanted.

    We "fought" Communism and the Cold War for 40 years on the basis that "Communism" was "1984". But look at how quickly Bush and the Repubs grabbed the SAME POWERS as thje USSR when they had the 911 "excuse" and the devious opportunity

    June 6, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  8. Big_D

    It's called the Patriot Act, they have actually scaled it back under Obama.

    June 6, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  9. Sunflower2

    JustSayin........ I couldn't agree with you more... you hit the nail right square on the head... Frightening as it is, it's our new reality....

    June 6, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  10. Jean-Sartre

    "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."

    Well, how is all that "kept secret" working out for you folks?

    June 6, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  11. Andrew

    I'm about ready to cut phone and online services altogether. This is just creepy and unamerican.

    June 6, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  12. Brian Smith

    This is just the groundwork for them to say your every activity online can be tracked, monitored, recorded, and categorized. Maybe this is why no terrorists use the phone or the internet anymore (which kinda defeats the purpose of the government spying on these methods of communication)

    June 6, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  13. Steve

    "Good intelligence" is not treating all of Verizon's customer's as potential suspects. This clearly shows the government has no clue whom they are looking for and is not in control of the situation. That fact that these Senators believe the routine collection of data and suspicion of all Americans is ok shows how un-American they are.

    June 6, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  14. Andrew

    Protest by crushing phones and sending them to D.C.?

    June 6, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  15. Switters

    The "far right" – - the new protectors of "civil liberties".............priceless......

    June 6, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  16. Ordinary Average American

    @TNPatriot: don't forget W! And @Gary: the ultimate oxymoron, isn't it?

    June 6, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  17. jcvance

    It is probably legal. Laws, however, are in the hands of the American people. We have the option to (borrowing a phrase from a well-known document) "alter or abolish" them within the limits of the Constitution. Laws should be an authentic (allbeit imperfect) representation of our nation's beliefs and values and if they fail in that representation we have a right, possibly an obligation, to take action.
    The choice is ours.

    June 6, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  18. rs

    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.
    _____________________________
    Re-writing History is fun isn't it!

    Look, everyone knows the genesis of the USA PATRIOT Act. Everyone knows it is the single biggest enhancement of Executive power. Given that Congress has relinquished all of its abilities (tied up in record numbers of GOP filibusters and "super-majority" bills) why in the world would the current President NOT use it? Especially in light of the Boston bombings? You fools just want it both ways: You want to call Obama the fascist, socialist Marxist dictator AND you want to say "he is just leading from behind" and "not interested in American security".
    Children- you can't have it both ways.

    June 6, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  19. betterdays

    1972 bumper sticker slogan: "President Nixon. Now more than ever."
    2008-2016 bumper sticker slogan: "President Nixon. Now more than ever."

    June 6, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  20. fed up

    I agree with 'just sayin'. What ever happened to "Due Process" and "Unreasonable Search and Seizure"? The Government complains because the public is becoming more and more paranoid because of the lack of transparency in Washington. Too bad they can't see their own arrogance and realize the damage they are doing to this country.

    June 6, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  21. jon

    Why is this mess only involving Verizon??

    June 6, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  22. Dave

    So...terroists only use Verizon??

    June 6, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  23. SPW

    These Senators don't understand that just because they call it lawful doesn't mean us law abiding citizens will accept it as so

    June 6, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  24. rs

    "Good intelligence" is not treating all of Verizon's customer's as potential suspects. This clearly shows the government has no clue whom they are looking for and is not in control of the situation. That fact that these Senators believe the routine collection of data and suspicion of all Americans is ok shows how un-American they are.
    ________________________
    This is the hazard of sleeping through the Bush years. Welcome to the USA Patriot Act- and the world Republicans made from 2000-2008.

    June 6, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  25. Nameredog69

    As long as U.S. policy with drones and other imlperilst actions over seas continues our govt. Creates theses so called terroist if the russian govt killed innocent people here I would probably feel like some revenge myself we need to wake up our govt lies to us and makes us unsafe

    June 6, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
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