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. EL

    Hmm! Well it would appear that all the government needs to do is to define you as a terroist. Which includes numerous things, like tax protesters! Oh! Yes, that's right, of course there's no targeting anyone by the IRS they were just a bunch lowly underlings doing what they were told! Wake up you idiot Americans!

    June 6, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  2. 9hydra

    Obama sure fooled us. He really is just finishing up Bush's Foruth term.

    June 6, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  3. 9hydra

    Well Obama sure fooled us. Turns out he's no different from Bush after all.

    June 6, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  4. DavM

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein ,communist take over is starting

    June 6, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  5. just sayin

    lovespandas
    I have nothing to hide – do you? I could care less who "listens" in on my conversations!
    -----

    these are the sheeple that are the greatest danger to our freedom. you deserve to live in north korea, not the usa.

    June 6, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  6. motorfirebox

    Figures the one thing the GOP and the Dems agree on is spying on Americans.

    June 6, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  7. vdanker

    Just because it can be done doesn't mean it should be done.

    June 6, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. Loathstheright

    Bush started this crap 10 stinking days into office and once they start this then they will not give it up.

    June 6, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  9. Texas

    The NSA spies on everybody. Think I'm joking? Do your own research.

    June 6, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  10. GG

    I have no problems with this. But I bet you the liberals do. Of course they won't say anthing about it since it's going on under Obama's watch, but had this news broke under Bush administration, O the OUTRAGE!

    June 6, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  11. Taxpayer

    Not Communists or Islamists. BIG BROTHER! George Orwell's 1984 vision of all-intrusive government is finally here! The domestic drones and surveillance cameras are part of that "Patriot Act" plan.

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

    June 6, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  12. Jeff

    So...tell me how phone spying will flush out terrorists...when the terrorists are 10 steps ahead of these dolts??

    So far...nobody has been able to give me an answer to this...so I will keep saying this...TERRORISTS DO NOT USE PHONES WITH CONTRACTS!!!

    They follow the lead of drug dealers...they buy a Go Phone or Net 10 phone for like $20...put money on the phone by way of buying a gift card...and bam....you're untraceable. All the NSA can do is attempt to ping the cell towers you called from...but other than that...the Go Phone you buy doesn't require a registration or name and neither does the gift card you put on the phone to keep it active. And if and when that becomes a requirement....my new name is "Sofa King" and I live at PO Box 123.

    So...either the NSA is nothing but complete boneheads...which I seriously doubt....or...this is just an excuse they can tell the average person that this has to be done so you can feel safe.

    June 6, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  13. JB

    These "security measures" are starting to infringe on liberty a bit too much. You having nothing to hide is not the point. It is the expansion of government power that is the concern

    June 6, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  14. Jeff

    So...tell me how phone spying will flush out terrorists...when the terrorists are 10 steps ahead of these dolts??

    So far...nobody has been able to give me an answer to this...so I will keep saying this....terrorists do not use contract phones.

    They follow the lead of drug dealers...they buy a Go Phone or Net 10 phone for like $20...put money on the phone by way of buying a gift card...and bam....you're untraceable. All the NSA can do is attempt to ping the cell towers you called from...but other than that...the Go Phone you buy doesn't require a registration or name and neither does the gift card you put on the phone to keep it active. And if and when that becomes a requirement....my new name is "Bob Smith" and I live at Mom's backyard.

    So...either the NSA is nothing but complete boneheads...which I seriously doubt....or...this is just an excuse they can tell the average person that this has to be done so you can feel safe

    June 6, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  15. Gary

    "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither." – Ben Franklin

    It isn't whether I have anything to hide or not – it is the principle of our government collecting information without reasonable cause. If someone walks into a mall with a bomb-vest, would you support TSA-style security in every public place? You don't wake up in a "police state" – it gradually evolves into such when we're not paying attention.

    June 6, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  16. George

    Don't be so willing to give up liberty and privacy for PERCEIVED security. Obama is just continuing the policies of Bush. People who think he is a socialist are full of it. Liberal? Heck no. Rand Paul is more liberal than Obama is. At least on these issues he is.

    June 6, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  17. tomfoolery

    Race care playing will finally end for this pseudo-president Obozo and he will be impeached for one or another of these insane shennanigans!

    June 6, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  18. Marie MD

    If you have nothing to hide and this will and can stop another terrorist attack then go ahead. When the village mental #43 did it after 9/11 it was okay. Now, of course, it isn't.

    BTW intelligence and congress in one sentence is in itself a joke. More os ic if ghe flake from MN is still on that committee.

    June 6, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  19. ann terhune

    I am a member of the ACLU but am not worried about this. They are not listening to the conversations–they are looking for connections. If someone in the US had been talking to Bin Laden, wouldn't you want the FBI to know? We can't comlain when the FBI and CIA failed to connect the dots and them prevent them from connecting the dots. My guess is that the FBI now has a data base from every telephone carrier that lets them know who in the US and the world has been communicating with known suspected terriorists. And I am glad. That is not the same as listening to conversations.

    June 6, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  20. Pulchram Mortem

    I agree with Jeff, and Gary. Government has overreached. Collecting information in this magnetude is obscene. And don't forget, One of the failures to protect us from 911 was government agencies could not pass information between one another. We have passed laws allowing any government agency to get records from any other agency. How would you feel to be audited by the IRS, then BAM! they pull out your verizon phone records? Why not, they're already using your facebook page against you.

    June 6, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  21. west coast smoker

    it does not matter who started this, what matters is that it is being done. One question i have seen no answer for. Is it only Verizon? if so why? Just started with Verizon 3 months ago wonder if i can use this to break my contract?

    June 6, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  22. Chuck Diesel

    Guess they will have to tap all the carriers now that the Bad Guys know not to use Verizon. Too bad this wonderful tool didn't stop the Boston Bombing. Statement below is so true it hurts, that is why pure truth is always bitter.

    "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither." – Ben Franklin

    June 6, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  23. CAW

    Cutting off the hands of thieves also works to prevent crime, it doesn't mean it's what America is about.

    June 6, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  24. individual

    This is yet another step and another proof of what was once the United States to Totalitarian States of America. Tell me what is the difference of the 2013 United States spying on it's citizens and Russia of 1960's thru 1980's KGB spying on it's citizens?

    June 6, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  25. Oh For Pete's Sake!

    "We will NOT monitor citizens or violate civil liberties in the name of National Security ..........BARACK OBAMA.

    NDAA
    IRS
    AP
    VERIZON.........................He is the biggest LIAR on the face of the Planet!

    June 6, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23