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. Bruce

    –quote–
    Then you weren't paying attention, because all the liberals who have had to put up with getting called "unpatriotic," "un-American," etc during the village idiot's presidency were screaming extremely loudly about it and we all got ignored, told we were "aiding the enemy" and that we "shouldn't criticize the POTUS during wartime" etc.
    –end quote–

    Then why is it still in effect? Why did a president from the Democrat party sign and renew most clauses, also added a few new, to the Patriot Act? Can't dump it on your 'village idiot' unless you admit there is currently another village idiot in the presidents seat.

    Just because something is authorized in a law written by Congress, does not make it legal. It does make it 'lawful'. To check if it is legal, a case challenging it has to be brought before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can not overturn it on constitutional grounds without someone bringing a case to them, and the Supreme Court can not invent its own cases. The whole purpose of getting the information is to determine association between people. It can put into question our right to freely associate and assemble. The result can be that if you know someone 2nd removed (you know someone, who knows someone who knows a terrorist), you can be considered a terrorist risk through associate even if you are not.

    June 6, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  2. old news wake up

    Old news from 2006. I remember being told to leave country if I didnt like it. Didn't like it then. Don't like it now. Also you know your local police can track,listen,read all your cell phone without a warrant. Look it up. We have very little privacy these days.

    June 6, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  3. John

    "Those who sacrifice freedom for security will enjoy neither."

    June 6, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  4. What It Is

    This is Wrong!!

    William Blanck
    If you have nothing to hide and a citizen in good standing, than you have nothing to worry about....let the government do its job to catch the terrorists....

    We commonly project our judgment of things onto people and events, and can see crime where there is none. Once the juggernaut of suspicion and investigation, combined with the fear of 'not catching the perp' combine with our practice of projection, innocent victims of justice are part of the bycatch, and collateral damage.

    The necessity of a Warrant grounds the investigation by making investigators/prosecutors provide a reasonable cause for investigation in order to get authorization to search within the scope of the provided rationale. This cuts down on victimizing the innocent...not perfect, but necessary if our Justice is not to create more harm than good.

    So innocent people do have something to fear, and are being denied their 5th amendment rights by the FISA court.

    The tendency to incriminate doesn't mean ONLY being guilty and keeping my mouth shut, it means not saying things that would make me seem suspicious and open the unlimited gate of resources and lust for a conviction which can convince a jury or judge that someone is guilty without honestly proving it.

    June 6, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    SamT wrote on page 19:

    This is exactly the thing 1930's Germany would have done, under the exact same guise, and call it exactly the same thing: "Protecting the homeland". It's scary.
    ---------------------–
    Don't forget that the law was written by, passed by, and signed into law by Republicans. The ACLU fought many of the provisions, and the Bush administration vigorously defended them in court and won.

    June 6, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  6. Themotorick

    To paraphrase our government leaders here, "We know what's best for you." My answer is, "What's best for me is to vote you out of office asap".

    June 6, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  7. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    The sheer arrogance of this administration is simply astounding.

    June 6, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  8. wild man

    the patriot act isn't about terrorists it's about monitoring the public, gun control isn't about guns it's about control, the ndaa 2012 isn't about national defense it's about controlling the public, all these have been approved by democrats and republicans sounds like they all have the same agenda and their agenda is taking away our freedoms and rights. it really makes me sick and chills me to the core when will we the people take our country back from these criminals

    June 6, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  9. capnmike

    OK, IF as they claim nobody is listening to the CONTENT of the phone calls, how could it possibly be determined that a "terrorist" is "plotting" something or that these calls are simply between Cousin Minnie, uncle Fred and Aunt Daisy? NOT POSSIBLE. Somebody is yanking the public's chain on this.

    June 6, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    When they came for the Fourth Amendment, I did not say anything – because I had nothing to hide.
    When they came for the Second Amendment, I did not say anything – because I did not own a gun.
    When they came for the Fifth and Sixth amendments, I did not say anything – because I had committed no crimes.
    When they came for the first Amendment – I could not say anything.
    Beware of this and any other intrusive government hiding behind policies to reduce our liberties!

    June 6, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  11. AGTR

    When they came for the Fourth Amendment, I did not say anything – because I had nothing to hide.
    When they came for the Second Amendment, I did not say anything – because I did not own a gun.
    When they came for the Fifth and Sixth amendments, I did not say anything – because I had committed no crimes.
    When they came for the first Amendment – I could not say anything.
    Beware of this or any other intrusive government hiding behind policies to reduce our liberties!

    June 6, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  12. shelby

    Congress extend the Patriot Act just last year. They need to focus on legislating.

    June 6, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  13. Joe

    Of all the many smart people you must have in your country , you pick a community organizer and his thugs from Chicago to be in charge of your country. Not once but twice.??!!They have lied to you , they have betrayed you and some have committed perjury or just refuse to be accountable.
    Where is the outrage , where is the demand for justice and honesty.., it is high time to take a stand .!!

    June 6, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  14. Dan

    It is lawful, but the real issue is.... IT SHOULDN'T BE LAWFUL. Spying on American citizens should not be lawful. It's time to get rid of the Patriot Act, which is not even close to patriotic. Pointing out that it's effective is besides the point.

    Installing cameras in all of our homes would be effective too, but that would be a bad move.

    June 6, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  15. Sonja Gonzalez

    Why us our government only interested in Verizon's customer phone records? Have any other cell fone companies been required to do the same? What about AT&T, Sprint? Just wondering. And won't this hurt Verizons business?

    June 6, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  16. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    Never cared for the Patriot act when Bush was in office. No reason to like it now.

    June 6, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  17. Antonio Contreras

    Main question: If there are no issues, or if it is truly protecting the liberties that serve as America's foundation, why does the order need to be kept secret? This is exactly what leads to the distrust and skepticism of government actions. Simply saying "we know know what's best for you" is insufficient, and people demand more. It appears that Sens. Feinstein and Chambliss have spent too much time misinterpreting the work of John Locke.

    June 6, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  18. Gavin

    I have an idea. EVERYONE send a letter to ALL those in Washington that "represent you" and let them know what we want. Vote OUT the patriot act or we vote YOU out. Republican or democrat who cares. You support the patriot act we will NOT support you. THE END.

    June 6, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  19. Dustin Goldsen

    It seems these days that there are two bipartisan issues. One issue is whether or not the United States should be policeman to the world or whether we should only act in our best interest. Should we save the Libyans or not? Should we save the Syrians or not? What about Africa?

    The other issue has to do with freedom versus safety. Should we give up freedoms to prevent terrorists from blowing us up or should we keep our freedom and take our loses?

    While its true every President has his detractors who will be against him no matter which way he goes, these issues are truly bipartisan. Both issues have people on both sides of the isle.

    June 6, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  20. globber_drobber

    Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security. (B. Franklin)

    June 6, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  21. Ann

    This is not a shock...this is what happened after 911, Congress said yes and it has been the norm ever since. If Americans don't want this going on they need to let their Representative and Senators know and get the law changed otherwise it will continue. We just have to ask ourselves is the invasion of phone numbers worth what the suppression of American's being targeted and hurt or killed. We either need to get it changed or shut up about it, can't be both. Maybe this will create an intelligent dialogue in this country as what American's can live with and what we won't tolerate and that is not a bad thing.

    June 6, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. 1108

    Rudy NYC

    SamT wrote on page 19:

    This is exactly the thing 1930's Germany would have done, under the exact same guise, and call it exactly the same thing: "Protecting the homeland". It's scary.
    -------–
    Don't forget that the law was written by, passed by, and signed into law by Republicans. The ACLU fought many of the provisions, and the Bush administration vigorously defended them in court and won.
    ----------------------------------------

    And don't forget how Senator Obama railed against the Patriot Act.

    June 6, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  23. Open eyes

    Whew! Luckily I use AT&T!
    I am really glad that potential terrorists have never thought about using prepaid cell phones.

    June 6, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  24. Fair is Fair

    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"?
    --------
    IF Obama were to do just what you said, I would be the first person to congratulate him on a job well done. Hell, if he had done it in his first term, it would have been enough for me to cast a vote FOR him for re-election. And I say that with sincerety... that's how much I hate the patriot act and the DHS.

    But it will never happen., EVER. By ANY president of either major party.

    June 6, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  25. evan

    We it sure has worked, for good or bad, since the 50's...probably actually since the phone was invented.

    June 6, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
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