June 6th, 2013
11:34 AM ET
10 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. Laverne

    It is clear the Obama Administration is under attack as this is something that has been going on forever in day! All these so called scandals are ridiculos because liberal groups and minority groups have been targeted for years by the IRS under republican admiinistations and the so called Benghazi scandal is the republicans way of trying to disqualify Hilary Clinton from becoming president. Quite frankly these are all distractions from the other side from not having any ideas on job creation, etc, and continuing to try and block every idea of progress Obama comes up with. I hope the American people reward the republicans with a taste of their own medicine in 2014!!

    June 6, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  2. Realistic85

    So this is the one thing republicans and democrats have decided to agree on. Wonderful...

    June 6, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  3. Greg

    Who is stupid enough to think everyone was not already being tracked. If you have nothing to hide you have no issue....

    June 6, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  4. SourceOne

    The problem is that Obama now has a history of using government services and resources against those who do not share his liberal and socialist philosophy. Remember he released confidential/sealed divorce records of political opponents when he was running for offices in Illinois. The guy is a master of Chicago dirty politics. Basically what I am saying is, while agree we need to monitor for terrorist activity, I do not, especially now, trust Obama or his minions one bit. Gross misuse of government resources against American citizens sharing alternate political views should result in impeachment.

    June 6, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  5. what must be

    I have no problem with the NSA monitoring the internet, phones, and other communications to keep us safe. Every single day we are monitored in ways you don't realize. For instance, the teachers monitor the kids to be sure they are behaving, the cameras many of use in our homes ensure our kids and home is safe, the traffic cameras on our highways monitor traffic levels and so we can avoid those areas ahead of time, police monitor traffic to catch traffic violators to keep the rest of us safe and so on and on and on.

    With this power comes responsibility. That is what everyone is afraid of. That those institutions that have the power now act responsible with it and don't abuse their power. As long as the check and balances are in place and the system does not fail (like in a failed government) all will be well.

    June 6, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  6. James PDX

    So this is just another non-issue, and the Republicans have even signed off on it. It's really just a matter of whether the Patriot Act should be repealed or not. And people seem as divided on that as they do on pretty much everything these days.

    June 6, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  7. Shawn

    Private Companies developed Big Brother and the Government is slowly taking over. The problem is they should only looking at individuals not everyone. I am cancelling my cell contract today with verizon and getting a disposable pay as you go. The one phones real criminals use to avoid this type of surveillance. I thought having a legimate 2 year contract would have excluded me from this type of surveillance.

    June 6, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  8. James Louis Rutger

    simple, buy and use throwaways

    June 6, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  9. Dave

    This is a case of the ends being used to justify the means. Shame on the Obama administration.

    June 6, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  10. Nobody N. Particular

    So, when it comes to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, its ok to subvert them so long as it keeps us safe. Any senator who believes this, should be shot for treason (and since we can deny rights, we should deny their's to a trial). This is why I'm for repelling the 16th and 17th amendments (the allowing the federal government to collect income taxes and allows senators to be elected by popular vote); senators were suppose to represent the States, not the people; that is what the House of Representatives are for. Our problems are because there is too much money and power concentrated in the federal government which ALWAYS leads to CORRUPTION and ELITISM.

    June 6, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  11. TJ

    "Vereizon forced" to give up records? Not hardly. Hopefully there'll be a mass exodus from Verizon (only to jump to another carrier that bends over for the NSA) for backstabbing their customers.

    At the very least this will tell terrorists in country to use VOIP and spoof their number the next time they want to talk about getting a pressure cooker convention going....

    June 6, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  12. essmeier

    The Bush surveillance state lives, probably forever.

    June 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  13. joe

    The fact that this originated in the Bush administration, was passed and approved by Congress, and works quite well in stopping terrorists, seems to be lost on the Obama haters.

    June 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  14. iknewwhoitwas

    I just saw the Headline and I already knew one of them was Dianne Feinstein! lol.

    June 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  15. pchelp, Juneau, AK

    Of course it's lawful-and so was the murder of 6 million Jews by Germany during WWII. What difference does 'lawful' make? The question is whether or not it's ethical-and these idiots 'answer' that by telling us that it's been going on for years? That sounds like my kids, about age 6. "We've gotten away with it before so of course it's OK." I'd hope for a little more maturity from the 'leaders' of the US.

    June 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  16. DJ C.

    Political parties blaming each other is the biggest distraction to progress. As an American people we fail to come together. Instead we just sit and watch the government tread on our civil rights. Then they use extreme, maybe even orchestrated, events to justify the attack on our civil rights. These events have given us a case of Stokholm syndrome. They attack us and make us think its for or own safety. We need to stop blaming other political parties, come together as an American people, and stand up for our rights as one party, The American Party.

    June 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  17. ReasonablePerson88

    I want my government to have access to phone records and to search and scan the hell out of me when I board a plane because 1) I'm not a paranoid loony (btw, they have access to who you call, when, and from where, to where, they are not listening to your conversations), 2) it increases the CHANCE that I'll be safer, and 3) AS A LAW-ABIDING CITIZEN I HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE.

    NOTHING is 100%, but using technology to its maximum is A-OK with me. Surveil away!

    June 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  18. Mike

    We must destroy the Constitution in order to save it. And this from "Democrats?" The ENTIRE political class has betrayed the Republic. This is how freedom dies, folks.

    June 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  19. Rick Spork

    I'm LMAO with all communist saying it "started with Bush" – 5 years later. But didn't BO say the war on terror was over?

    June 6, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  20. swingstater

    Only a matter of time before information like this will be used against those who present political challenges, if it hasn't already happened. (Remember how no one was allowed to protest Bush, Jr. at his campaign stops? Even an anti-Bush shirt would get you kicked out by the secret service.) And certainly, someone like Nixon would have no qualms against abusing any such information that he could.

    June 6, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  21. us_1776

    Yeah, let's just search evey American's house and we might find something criminal somewhere.

    This is EXACTLY what the Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to PREVENT.

    Since Sept 2001 all we have had is a Police State.

    It's time to repeal the unpatriotic Patriot Act.

    .

    June 6, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  22. Suburban Sheepdog

    These vile scoundrels. These tyrannical scum. Their justification of a sweeping, wholesale violation of their citizens' rights is "well, it works." These bastards took an OATH to uphold the Constitution.

    I honestly believe they have so discounted the human value of the people they are supposed to serve, and have grown so certain of the populace's complacency, that they believe they can do or justify anything, without there ever being a consequence.

    I believe that they are wrong.

    June 6, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  23. us_1776

    Yeah, let's just search evey American's house and we might find something criminal somewhere.

    This is EXACTLY what the Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to PREVENT.

    Since Sept 2001 all we have had is a Police State..

    It's time to repeal the unpatriotic Patriot Act.

    .

    June 6, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  24. USAPeasant

    Lol Feinstein and Chambliss support tyranny, that's really no surprise at all. Remember their names and remeber they support spying on Americans. Vote them out.

    June 6, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  25. jim

    Why is it ok now, but it wasn't when the media was tapped for leaks. Oh I know..because congress new about his one.

    June 6, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23