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. Bill

    "Phone spying works" says the Senators – So does murdering your enemies in a dark alley. A lot of tactics work, but a lot of them oppress the liberty of American people. Such a sad state of affairs; Senators should try to figure out why "terrorists" hate the United States, rather than be suspicious of every person in the United States. You're only making dutiful and patriotic Americans hate their home.

    June 6, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  2. richunix

    What our for-fathers thought:

    “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
    ― Benjamin Franklin

    June 6, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    This is great. The Bush administration first wrote and enacted the law. He even went beyond the scope of the law to use the collected data to identify phone numbers to be tapped without a warrant. But all of that was OKAY with the right wing then because George W. Bush "was keeping America safe".

    June 6, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  4. cedar rapids

    'nuclear mike – Orwell predicted it all so clearly and was off only a decade or so'

    really? you want to claim the world you are living in right now it exactly like 1984 huh? well thanks for that hyperbole.

    June 6, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  5. Bill

    Wouldn't be such a dilemma if the US wasn't a douchebag in foreign countries. Our support of Israel is why, practically, all of the middle east hates us.

    June 6, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  6. truth hurts but reality bites

    I TRUST our form of government. What I do NOT trust is the endless writing of more and more laws that never go away, just keep accumulating, each one taking more and more of our freedom.

    And now unfortunately, I CANNOT trust many who hold both high and low positions in our government. Corrupt or morally bankrupt people in positions of power are a danger to everybody and we are seeing that play out now. To a large part, we TRUST people in government to do the right thing. Sadly, the last few years has shown that trust has been broken. Unless we start seeing some heads roll and roll fast, the trust will be irreparably damaged. Sadly, I doubt that will happen.

    June 6, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  7. Bob

    CNN should ask the senators to turn over all their cell phone and office phone records and those of their family and staffers and staffers family. If it's no big deal it should be public information. Let's look at these numbers and determine what patterns fall out.

    June 6, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  8. rs


    Its been effective? So is Water Boarding!
    Yes, another tool Cheney supported using.

    June 6, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  9. banditos

    Isn't this the same Witch that tried to take away our 2nd amendment rights. Amazing the evil we have in government like Fienstein. Glad she is so old..These evil cronies don't get that they are pushing to hard and at this rate there is going to be a huge backlash against them. History will repeat itself. It always does.

    June 6, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  10. maskddingo

    Anyone who tries to defend this needs to be removed from office imediately. There is no excuse. It needs to stop now. The American public demands it.

    June 6, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  11. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    OF COURSE the democrat run senate thinks so.

    This is just laughable.

    June 6, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  12. Buzz

    Whether it's been going on for years or not, that is NEVER a good justification for anything. This in the context of the other issues playing out in DC just shows more clearly how our citizen rights are being eroded by those who are supposed to be serving us. Big Brother is bigger than ever right now.

    June 6, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  13. Konadreamer

    The federal government has just created a few more Timothy McVeighs. Congrats!

    June 6, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  14. Freddy

    This is something that should unite Americans in proper outrage beyond bogus partisan divides propagated by the mass media/entertainment industrial complex. It's not about right vs. left–right now we are all losing our freedoms and the American values that make our country exceptional.

    June 6, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  15. Ryan

    "'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.'"

    >Implying the Patriot Act is lawful.

    June 6, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  16. Rudy NYC


    Well, on the plus side, if the NSA had to build satellites and computing resources to capture all this data, they'd be spending billions of taxpayer dollars on it. Instead, they can make the phone companies hand it over, neatly formatted.
    Yeah, but. Wouldn't they still need computing resources to store, review, and analyze the data?

    June 6, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  17. Nils

    It is sad that our Senators think it is OK to give up liberty for the sake of a perceived security threat. If this surveillance is justified, then show what it has stopped. It was deemed that no actionable intelligence was derived from questionable interrogation techniques. How much actionable intelligence has been derived from this violation of our privacy. If a search warrant requires specific intelligence and is only issued for the specifics requested, how can this global warrant be justified? Secondly, has anyone been notified that their records have been obtained under the order of a secret court action? This really smells. Good intentions fraught with a number of things that can go wrong for the average citizen and a violation of privacy. I will support a class action suit but not a plaintiff as I use another service. Have all phone companie's records been obtained?

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin 1759

    I contend that a phone conversation is private and it is essential liberty to be able to talk in private. (Any of these Senators have stock in companies that make encrypted phones?)

    June 6, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  18. Stephen Curtis

    Of course it works, but that isn't the point. The common thread throughout the Bill of Rights is that the tactics that governments use to secure their regimes and provide for the security and the welfare of the State cannot violate individual liberties, and given a choice between protecting liberties and security, security takes a back seat. While Democrats and Republicans are bickering, we our losing the most precious gift ever given to any group of people in history.

    June 6, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  19. abcd1

    Now , who do you think makes the laws ? If you guessed right ,it's it congress . so it the end of the story .

    June 6, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  20. w l jones

    So long the government do not make any body commonsation public do not see a problem with keeping us safe.

    June 6, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  21. asfdffff

    Feinsatan is involved????


    June 6, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  22. John

    The problem here is who is being identified as a terrorist. The court order doesn't name the persons under surveillance and that sort of gap is where it all begins to tumble. Under general conditions, you can't obtain a search warrant in order to go looking for something to link a person to criminal activity. It is also accepted that any other criminal activity detected during the course of the search, known as fruits of the crime, can legally be prosecuted and the evidence is construed to be legally obtained.

    Anyone who believes that such a broad order won't be violated to wild extremes is entirely naive. From the time that communications technology reached a certain level of sophistication, there were already plans in motion to find ways in tracking and intercepting the data. People continue to shrug their shoulders with the notion that it's harmless to them. We have constitutional protections in place for very valid and real reasons. Those protections come under challenge in instances such as this but because no one feels the immediate impact, they cast it off as incidental. It is anything but ordinary.

    June 6, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  23. pbtexas

    It is so remarkable that every high school dropout in the good old USA is a constitutional law expert. People do not realize that technology is changing everyday life and the framers of the constitution did not have even the vaguest idea in 1776 what was to happen two hundred years later. The people, countries we are dealing with now do not follow the US constitution. In short, constitution must be considered as a guiding frame work and not one cast in stone never to be changed ever. This also holds for the second amendment, which is sacrosanct as far as NRA is concerned.

    June 6, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  24. Robin

    They can stick my phone records in their collective ears.

    June 6, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  25. Fair is Fair


    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.
    I've hated the patriot act since the day is was conceived. I'll gladly take the powerball-odds chance of getting offed by a terrorist to have it repealed. What boggles my mind is the liberals and civil libertarians on this thread defending this action in the name of "keeping us safe". Insanity at its best.

    June 6, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
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