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."

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker']

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. Lagos

    "why is Obama being blamed for something George W. Bush started?"

    I think you're confused. While Bush pushed for the patriot act and signed it into law, it was written and passed by congress in a bipartisan fashion. If you're willing to blame Bush for this in entirety, I'm not sure why you wouldn't be able to blame Obama for not pushing congress to repeal the Patriot Act. Since he became president, can you find one instance of him calling on congress to repeal the patriot act? Or has he just stood idly by? He can't unilaterally end it, but he is Head of Party. If you're not blaming Obama for not pushing his party to end it, you can't blame Bush for pushing his party to start it.

    June 6, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  2. bobo

    The problem is how it is used..... Under Bush, the records were kept for someone ALREADY suspected of ties to Terrorism. Under Obama it is EVERYBODY!

    June 6, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  3. george

    no warrant to obtain phone records and other records would make it all inadmissible in the court.

    June 6, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  4. joe

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

    June 6, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  5. Lost Keys

    The Patriot Act is bad enough as written, but this practice is a dramatic overreach of what's authorized under the law there. The Patriot Act allows for this sort of intelligence gathering specifically when there is a specific and imminent threat. I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that there is a clear, specific and imminent threat posed by everyone in the United States with a cell phone. Erosion of our civil liberties can not be tolerated.

    June 6, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  6. old professor

    I agree with Senator Feinstein...she is a very smart woman...and am pleased the judge issued the warrant to the NSA.

    It was just business as usual until someone spilled the beans. Of course, the beans may have been spilled on purpose to remind our enemies just how high the fence is.

    If the beans were not spilled on purpose, the leaker can expect some heat.

    June 6, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  7. PeterD

    Everything is Falling Apart in America under the Weak Leadership of President Obama and His Administration.

    June 6, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  8. PaulG

    Time to take back our liberty from the likes of Feinstein. Repeal the Patriot Act.

    June 6, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  9. d mc

    I remember that our government attacked Chinese government for monitoring some peoples'
    phone call conversations.

    Now it turns out that our government is doing the same thing and probably for a longer time
    and targeting for more people.

    June 6, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. Siestasis

    If you do not like the Patriot Act then see how your Senators and Representative voted and then when they come up for election next time vote against them and/or campaign against them. Let them know how you feel. However, if the act is repealed then the next time there is a terrorist act against us do not complain. The result of this leak – terrorists will not use throw away phones. Leakers are terrorist co-conspirators.

    June 6, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. nevada39

    "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of" This was the nazi party line..

    I do not believe Obama or Bush are nazi's, but we are heading into a police state and that is the basic response you get when you dare question it.

    June 6, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  12. Andy M

    Freedom is not cheap. Sometime we must give up that freedom in order to walk down to the local supermarket without getting killed. With everything that has been happening lately, just image what it would be like IF they didn't have this intelligence. Wether you like it or not there are people out there that don't care for you of your family and have no problems killing you in a blink of an eye. I dodn't have a problem with the government knowing who i am phoning as I don't have anything to hide. However, i do agree that the way they do things need to change. iF you want to see our phone records come out on TV say that your doing it and let us decide if we want to use the cell phone or not.

    Just my two cents

    June 6, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. karl


    June 6, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. Sam

    OK, stop already. THIS did NOT originate under GW Bush. That's ignorant. Bush's NSA surveillance was specifically for domestic to foreign calls (both directions). The Obama administration is tracking domestic to domestic calls. Big difference. CNN appears to highlight the MOST ignorant posts. Why am I not surprised.

    June 6, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  15. Odo

    Funny I don't see the Obama haters blaming Bush for this since it was HIM who put this into the patriot Act to begin with....I agree Obama should not have renewed it, but give "credit" where it is due...this is ALL courtesy of the GOP.

    June 6, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  16. DM

    Sounds like we have learned a lesson or two from North Korea! I want to see my name on a subpoena and the crime I may have committed before this is right. Otherwise, some robocop in DC might "analyze" my Verizon records and see that I ordered Chinese 20 take-out 20 times last year and assume that I am a spy. What's next, US follows Kim Jong Il's rite of spring, threatens the entire world, and then we launch duds at whales? Stop these outrageous acts that blame law-abiding taxpayers for failures in DC would be a nice start.

    Soon-to-be xVerizon "customer"

    June 6, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  17. Adam

    As if we needed another reason to hate Feinstein.

    June 6, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  18. James from IL

    "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." – Ben Franklin

    June 6, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  19. cedar rapids

    '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?'

    Dont think so but i have heard it used by repubs in regards to getting IDs to vote, or to be stopped by police for immigration checks.

    June 6, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  20. trevorbryant flagstaff az

    We warned you about passing the Patriot Act when it was first proposed. No one listened, everyone just signed on and said "it is needed." Abuses were predicted, like wiretapping everyone. Now that it is here, you are surprised? You really think this is the LIMIT of the things that it has spawned? This is just the tip. I can spy on cell phone conversations with a $20 device from radio shack (for$80 I can tap your cellphone or any other video signal), you think they don't have something better than radio shack? This is not news. I am sorry you are shocked.

    June 6, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  21. Steve Fix

    FISA is a secret court. What's wrong with this picture?

    June 6, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  22. Very Plain Very Simple

    Freedom it not FREE! plain and simple.... Now we should be aware of the things that are at cost for our freedom. the American people knew about the Patriot Act so we should not be surprised this is going on...It would be nice if there were not these secret court oders and adv what is going on......hint transparency........

    just saying.......

    June 6, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  23. Jay

    It's funny. The gun advocates are screaming about the violation of their rights. A simple background check is too invasive. It will lead to a national gun registry and eventually take all your guns away.
    The government is surveying you. Why aren't you outraged!?They are doing wire taps, profiling, checking phone records. You can't stop it. They can track anything on you in the name of elimination of terror threats. This is more alarming than gun rights. This is the edge of a police state. This is Big Brother watching over you. This doesn't just violate the Bill of Rights it goes against the fiber of America.
    "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." -Ben Franklin
    "Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty." – Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. President

    June 6, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  24. Jessica Lerma

    If this is what it takes to keep Americans safe; I say go for it! Everyone else who is complaining; if you have nothing to hide then what is the problem?

    June 6, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    To be safe from terrorism ... or not to be safe from terrorism? What a dilemma we face ... yes? Our right to privacy vs a terrorist's right to ... well, you get the picture.

    June 6, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23