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

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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. CAW

    I believe we are losing our liberties in this country. What next, if they give you truth serum and you tell everything it's legal because you 'volunteered to speak'?

    June 6, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  2. Will

    "Phone spying works"

    So does genociding everyone. Why don't you push for that?

    June 6, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  3. Pulchram Mortem

    What happens if you get someone calling you because they got the wrong number? but they keep trying cause it was the only number given to them for their terrorist cell? I would really hate having the Feds rummaging through my underwear drawer because of a wrong number. After all I wasn't born in this life to spend half of it justifying every move I ever made. Hence why we used to require reasonable cause to get warents for these things. Search my underwear drawer, I'll be embarrassed of course, but do it if a judge feels you have reasonable cause, and not just because you lied to the judge.

    June 6, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  4. CAW

    People in the states these Senators serve, vote them out of office for they are failing in understanding what America is supposed to stand for.

    June 6, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  5. California gary

    Funny........all those "Patriot Act" Republicans are suddenly concerned about privacy issues. Gosh.....you guys were pretty slow in coming around.

    June 6, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  6. nodummyheads

    "As far as I know..." meaning, of course, that she doesn't actually know.

    June 6, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  7. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Anyone here ever heard of Project Echelon? Started under Ronald Regan. Look it up.

    June 6, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  8. Pulchram Mortem

    I read that someone in the AG office said (and I think I'm paraphrasing here) "Oh no, they'll think we're spying on America". Um... cause you are.

    June 6, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  9. Gop loved the Patriot Act, now we know why

    once the Patriot Act was passed it gave any law enforcement agency an open book to do anything to anyone at any time under the guise of national security, Bush,Cheney and Ashcroft the true axis of evil

    June 6, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  10. NC Sister

    Doesn't bother me if it keeps us safe.

    June 6, 2013 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  11. RDH

    Everyone reading should watch on youtube: the terrifying future of the united states by user stormcloudsgathering.

    June 6, 2013 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  12. Tom

    Hahaha...Donna, I love how the name changes to the "Obama Patriot Act" when Obama signed the extention of the Patriot Act which Bush enacted . It was and will always be a Bush era invasion or privacy law! Nice try!

    June 6, 2013 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  13. Tom

    Yep...thanks to The Patriot Act, law enforcement can pretty much do whatever they please...and if you don't like it, you will be arrested on grounds that you are a "Domestic terrorist" any questions?

    June 6, 2013 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  14. A Fact

    The senators sure lose sight of the fact that the very people they are targeting are those who put them in office!

    June 6, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  15. Tom L.

    Clearly, because you now recognize that you made a mistake about the TEA Party since they weren't around before, be man enough to admit that you are wrong about your earlier comment that they have no credibility on this topic. In fact, your entire assessment about them should be reconsidered if you were a man because you made a huge assumption about them that is incorrect.

    June 6, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  16. James M. Horak

    Fine then Congress start paying half my phone bill every month AT&T & Verizon should turn around and add a surcharge to there phone bills called patriot act fee.

    June 6, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  17. James M. Horak

    Cell phones they should be monitoring CB channel 19 and here what people say over the CB.

    June 6, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  18. Once again, Obama waves his magic wand

    America, land of the free, home of the brave is over. Liberty died with thunderous applause in 2012. To all of you who voted for Obama, its your fault. We had a chance to get him out and you morons blew it for us. I hope your welfare was worth your freedom. FYI Obama promoted Susan Rice to National Security advisor so he could use executive order to keep her from testifying on Benghazi. Enjoy your communism liberal fools.

    June 6, 2013 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
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