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. nuclear mike

    Orwell predicted it all so clearly and was off only a decade or so...the Patriot Act is anything but American as the Governement will control all for any purpose "they" decide is justified for anyone that opposes their tyranny.

    June 6, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  2. Matt

    "Lawful"? That is irrelevant! It is unethical, and if the goverment ever decides to change their definition of "bad guy" (see: the recent IRS targeting scandal), then anyone could ultimately become the target of this program. End it now!

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  3. WMesser58

    Here is the deal I have no problems with wire-taps but it's called Habeas Corpus for a reason. You need to go through the court system regardless of the illegal patriot act (UNCONSITUTIONAL) where the government has chosen to ignore due process.

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  4. tet1953

    Let's try this again lol stupid autocorrect.

    Oh, well, as long as it produced results. Cripes.

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  5. Blue

    We need to be safe, and this is just one tool.

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  6. Name

    I'm so sick of people saying if you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about. The bill if rights was written for a reason.

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  7. allens

    0bama has been a huge disappointment to me. Feinstein has not been a disappointment, most of us in ca. know she is the democratic equivalent of bachmann. i like how she left room, as far as i know. didn't she read the extension info? as far as Chambliss is concerned, well nothing need be said. this country has always been the biggest promoter of freedom. that is history. our elected leaders say the terrorists will not win, they already have

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  8. bobert

    It worked when? Didnt stop the bombing in Boston or the stabbing in London. Its impossible to protect us all the time feom everything. Stop usong terrorism as an excuse to take our rights. If they want to protect us tell them stop giving weapons to Al Qaeda in Syria.

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  9. Fair is Fair

    Obama Supporter

    If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.
    Didn't Himmler say the very same thing?

    June 6, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |

    Er, isn't the job of CONGRESS to repeal various acts? They are trying to repeal Obamacare and everything else of his! So how the hell do these numb-skull Obama haters get off blaming HIM for not "repealing" it and profaning our freedoms??!! Yes, we know – Tropical Storm Andrea is his fault too! Jeez..!!

    June 6, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  11. chill

    So now the US government's keeping tabs on who potential terrorists are talking to is the moral equivalent of genocide. Y'all might have a bit more credibility if you stopped with all the hysterical ridiculous analogies. This information is simply a record of what number called what number and how long the call was active (and location if a cell is used). The calls themselves have not been heard. And if the government didn't retain this information, it would be lost to them to prosecute terrorists once Verizon and the other carriers purged their records periodically. Covered by a FISA warrant. Have fun conspiracy theorists, byut this is much ado about nothing.

    June 6, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  12. Blue

    If this had been done before 911, 911 might not had ever happened.

    June 6, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  13. allenwoll

    The sales of disposable cellphones must be booming now ! ! !

    June 6, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  14. jim

    Welcome to the new america...Do as we say not what we do!

    June 6, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  15. pasha

    The high priestess of Oceania has spoken. Now back to free porn, very bad music and bad food

    June 6, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  16. aelj123

    The ironic price we pay for freedom.

    June 6, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  17. P O'd

    Do the citizens have access to this "court" for redress?

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  18. Real Patriot

    The federal government is using the threat of terroists to justify invading our privacy. If you can't see that then your obviously stupid. This is unlawful to the highest degree! What can we do to take back our privacy? The federal government is becoming too powerful, they grow bolder every day. The president is nothing more than a puppet deluded with the idea of power. Also, not only are they invading our privacy, but what does verizon think about this? are whole companies at the whim of this POLICE STATE? And whats with this "top secret order" thing? They are basically taking away one of our biggest rights and throwing some hasty BS in our way. WTF!?!

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  19. kevin

    If they already know the phone numbers of known terrorist as well as suspected ones why doesn't the warrent only cover the numbers in question and the people who called those numbers? Why do you need all of Verizon's numbers? I'm all for security but i am not for tramping over the Constitution!

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  20. Thomas

    Is there any one out there that actually believes anything this Government tells them including this ultra liberal bitch who wanted to steal our Guns and our Second Amendment rights right out from underneath us? This 15% approval congress has what credibility with any regular American citizen especially in lieu of the AP Seizure of records and The IRS scandal?

    Just because the Law says so? The Patriot Act? FISA? Bush's No Need For Warrant Surveillance? Is this what those numb nut Congressional YAKS are defending? This Government is simply lost it's mind and any sense of the need to be the least bit accountable to the American Public. "We can do what we want, whenever we want, as we want, to whomever we want" and act as if they are and will forever remain above the Constitution of the United States.

    Well, piss on them. They are, every last of them, a complete waste of humanity (sorry humanity for the insult) there ever has been. No Brains! No Balls, No Wits, No Sense but sheer absolute nonsense, No Accountability, No Credibility!


    All Rights Reserved Guaranteed By The Constitution Of My United States

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  21. ncgh

    "we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years,"

    uh? There are MILLIONS of American bad guys?? you've gathered information of MILLIONS of Americans, that does NOT sound like "only bad guys"

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  22. BobB

    As a card carrying member of The American Civil Liberties Union, I still support the governments pursuit of terrorists. If it did produce results, as both Republicans and Democrats have stated, I support the effort.
    Those of you who oppose monitoring of "phone numbers", will be the first to scream if a terrorist act could have been prevented, but wasn't because they didn't monitor the phone calls of the bad guys.

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  23. joe

    Let's get the senator's phone records and see if they feel the same way.

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  24. Fsjunkie

    We are our own worse enemy in our own national security. The hunger for scandal will undermine any advantage we could ever hope to gain in counterterrorism. If I were a terrorist, I don't think that if be using Verizon anymore. Go ahead, tell me all about the costs of security versus liberty...I haven't heard that speech yet.

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  25. Zooni

    The GOP and DEMs, two side of the same unconstitutional coin. Bought and payed for by the highest bidder. If I say walking into someones house without permission is legal as long as I only look at the floor, that doesn't mean it is.

    June 6, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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