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. Oh For Pete's Sake!

    Not only has Obama, and his cohort of liars, NOT repealed the Patriot Act – HE has signed NDAA giving himself ABSOLUTE power over Americans!
    And it MAY have been lawful to track terrorists – but NOT American people in pursuit of their job!

    You can't whitewash it however you try.

    June 6, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  2. john

    The big problem is that if they are willing to admit to one thing you can be sure that they are doing much more. Many years ago we handled wire taps for the government and many times their agents would set up a tap illegally, or before an order was active, or try to get a tap without a court order. In those days we followed the law and denied any taps that were not court approved and removed any that we found in the field that were illegal.

    These days, because of advanced technology, the government agents can circumvent the law because lines can be tapped using computers and surveillance techniques that avoid going through commercial communications companies. Bottom line, the government can do whatever it wants and who is to know?

    June 6, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  3. Narutogrey

    The act of phone surveillance I have no issue with. However, doing it in secrecy is what people are complaining about. This would not be an issue if the gov't gave ample warning and received consent from the person they are tracking before performing before any surveillance is actually performed.

    June 6, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. zaskar

    I am amazed at the people willing to give up their freedom. It did not help in Boston! It will be another list for Obama's harestment team.

    June 6, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  5. us_1776

    Who set the time machine for 1953?

    .

    June 6, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  6. epenguin

    Its funny how people cry about this yet if a terrorist event takes place that could have been prevented by simply monitoring a phone call, the same cry babys will be screaming bloody murder. This is the post 9/11 world. Thats it. Dont have phone sex with your girl or boy friend and dont discuss illegal activities on your phone. Pretty simple, isent it?

    June 6, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  7. Gary

    People make me sick with their... give up a little freedom to feel safe.

    Geez louise, what is wrong with you.

    As a LIBERAL I am outraged, and since the patriot act was that of republicans, you GOP supporting fools should be ashamed supporting a party that stripped away your rights.

    June 6, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  8. M

    So this is somehow OK because it's been going on for a long time? And Congress has been informed?

    In case these morons who call themselves senators need me to spell it out for them, it is NOT OK, and it has NEVER been OK, no matter how long it's been going on. And I don't care that they've been kept in the loop. That counts for nothing. When were they planning to tell the rest of us about this? Oh, silly me, why do I even ask, when I know the answer is that they had no plans to do so.

    The badly-misnamed Patriot Act was a terrible law when it was passed, and it has been a terrible law ever since. The whole thing needs to be repealed.

    June 6, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  9. Bob

    Leave it to these two to stomp an the rights of the people. Even if it was born under a republican presidents watch and at a time of hysteria due to 9-11, bad law is bad law. The people are going to get tired of their civil rights being trod upon and politicos like these two will pay for it and it wont matter what party they hand their hat on.

    June 6, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  10. madmax

    Allen Syverson – put it best. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is against all three articles and does not hide her feelings. She is the problem.

    June 6, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  11. s.smith

    It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years," he said. So when the government was going through the Associated Press phone records to find the source of a leak, for a terrorist plot that had already been averted, they were targeting terrorist or whistle blowers? They will only use it against the bad guy's, what happens when your government decides that your the bad guy?

    June 6, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  12. allenwoll

    .
    The people who have torn up the Constitution are the companies who have caved in ! . They should have DEFIED the NSA ! ! ! - No GUMPTION ! ! ! . I suspect that the NSA had or manufactured dirt on them, then threatened them with the IRS, the SEC or even INS ! !

    June 6, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  13. rick

    Lawful? Perhaps. Unconstitutional ? DEFINITELY. At the moment, the US government is a study in democracy failure.

    June 6, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  14. Sharon

    This is the price we pay to fight terrorism. Some may feel the Patriot Act is a step against our rights but I think it saves lives. It goes hand-in-hand with recent Supreme Court decision that allows police to take DNA on arrests. We are building a network through advances in technology that can save American lives down the road.

    June 6, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  15. Geolo

    There is a simple solution to this. MAKE IT UNLAWFUL. Most people do not like this. Just because something is "lawful" doesn't mean it is right and should be continued.

    June 6, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  16. penguin

    How would Scalia rule? I find my self actually agreeing with his thoughts about privacy. Why not put a chip in every body so we can track them. Just think, if a person were abducted, having the

    abilty to track everyone would make easy to find the abductee and the abdctor. Should we scrap our right to privacy to make us all safer?

    June 6, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  17. Realistic Beaver

    If it worked then 911 should have been prevented or any other terrorist or mads shootings we recently had should had been prevented. So the senator is wrong about their comments.

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  18. Richard

    The ends does not justify the means. It's never ok to trample on people's right to privacy because you say it helps prevent anything. Living in a free country comes with a cost. That cost is safety. The more freedom we have the greater the danger of bad things happening. If you want to make it safe you have to give up your freedom. Politicians seem to think it's ok because they exempt themselves form a lot of the violations they apply to everyone else. They think they are above the law and that because they are our "leaders" it's ok for it to be that way. A civil war is coming sooner rather than later if they don't realize they work for us, not control us. We are their bosses. We tell them what to do. I'm not going to give up my freedom so they can be rulers over this country. What justification do they have for looking at my phone records? I've done nothing wrong or even implied I might do anything wrong. To take my information is a violation of my rights becasue there is no basis for them being able to. Just because someone else might do something you should never be able to get a warrent for my information.

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  19. Joe Schmoe

    The NSA is building and maintaining a database to look for patterns. It's pretty useless and uninteresting, yes even to them, until they zero in on a number – (111) 111-1111 – based on other information. Then, it becomes very interesting. I see that (111) 111-1111 had several lengthy conversations with (222) 222-2222, and that (222) 222-2222 had many conversations with a number of a previously known terrorist suspect.

    As long as the law reads the way it does, and is followed, I really don't see the basis for the over-the-top reaction here.

    Do you really care if your number is one of millions in the database, and it shows that you called your girlfriend and Mom's number a lot?

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  20. jim

    What is the difference between this and the phone tap on the media? I thought congress was all pissed about it, but now it's ok since they new about it.

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  21. Firebranding

    What this is really saying to me is that this is one of few times conservatives, tea party, liberals, progressives, and whatever should march together..... It is not a time to scapegoat, take sides, defend hypocrisy, and put up a deaf ear.... This is insane and we are still clueless as to how big this is and how far it goes... What else is the government secretly doing behind our backs.... What rights am I pretending I have?

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  22. Nagrad

    The key here is that, while this is just now coming to light, as the Senator said:

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

    In other words, they've been snooping non-stop for the past seven years, it just hasn't been really public until now.

    Is anyone really surprised?

    Disappointed, maybe, but not surprised.

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  23. Mark Sanford

    I don't give a flying F if the government knows who I call...as long as they don't tell my wife!!!

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  24. To be honest

    This has been going on for years, has anyones life here been changed in any agonizing way other than out of their own paranoia? I am no proponent of big government, personally i think the federal power of washington needs to be decentralized allowing individual states to decide on more social issues. However this monitoring is done as a preventative measure due to the glaring security lapses on the day of 9/11 where over 3,000 civilian lives were lost that could have been saved had tactics like this been employed. It is impossible to prevent all acts of violence and terror in the US but I do not mind the government overseeing certain parts of private life to maintain public safety. This is nowhere near Nazi Germany or the Stalin Regime, in fact its amazing any one could use such strong language. Our democracy allows for us to say, do, and protest for whatever we feel especially on websites like this. You do not have to be proud of the way politics run these days, because it is rather embarrassing. But the foundation of our government is still built on stronger democratic footing than any other country in the world and I for one am greatly proud of that

    June 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  25. twoinchtammy

    It's awesome that when we are fearful as a nation (as we were when the Patriot Act was passed) we cannot give up our freedoms and privacy fast enough. When things aren't so scary, then we realized how much we gave up. This is not new. This is old. But if you were too scared of your own shadow because of our terror inducing media, you probably voted in the incumbent that helped to enact this very legislation.

    Is it time to take our freedom back? Absolutely, if it isn't too late!

    June 6, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
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