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. redhotmamasita

    NO RUDY NYC, it WASN'T ok at all ...... and there is no "right wing" monolith – grow up. It was a disgusting total affront to everything that is American and what is most dangerous is not only warrantless searches, but that congress didn't even specify that some serious crime or threat must be established or ultimately the goal, nada, nothing, it was passed as a total free for all for law enforcement ... which hasn't done a thing to stop terror or serious crimes

    June 6, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  2. TheTruth

    "They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized". What sworn oath was made for more than 200,000,000 Americans in order to steal their private coversations? And is anyone a great enough fool to believe that they're NOT being recorded? When a high-level officer stated that the phone conversations between the Boston Bomber and his wife can be "reconstructed"??? There's only one way to "reconstruct" a conversation that happened in the past ...

    June 6, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  3. Malory Archer


    If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.
    You trust human's way too much. It really doesn't matter if you have anything to hide or not. The fact is what you say can be used in ways that are harmful to you. For example, let's say you disagree with the current president, rep. or dem. and you express that on the phone. Now someone on the other end, i.e., conducting surveillance, doesn't like what you say so they decide to use that information against you, i.e., leak it out or twist it.

    This is not imagination speaking, this type of stuff has historically occurred.


    Right on jp, and I know it's real because it DID happen to me, and I've been on the "no-fly" list since. For 10 years I haven't been able to fly without being subject to "enhanced" screening techniques. But your ilk said if I had nothing to hide I shouldn't complain. Believe me, I had nothing to hide – especially where they were looking, but the humiliation of the whole matter was traumatic to say the least.

    June 6, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  4. guy

    So this is "essential" and fruitful, but none the less, Aurora Col. , VA Tech, Boston, and that terrible incident in Mass. occured..... we're always in danger! It is part of all life on this planet! Lets quit acting like scared meer kats and begin acting like human beings with the integrity to uphold the promises our forefathers made in the constitution!

    If we follow this line of thinking it will be against federal law to stand in the shower because so many people slip and fall and there fore to uphold this law we all must be viewed via camera that can only be viewed if there is a real possibility someone will violate the law.

    Sound silly? Perhaps, but not off base.

    June 6, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  5. John Galt

    This is a typical "Kill the Puppy" persuasion job by our legislators. Either like it or we "kill the puppy." So people will go along with it, but at the core of it, is the destruction of our values and the Bill of Rights. Shame on these senators!

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

    I have nothing to hide, so I have nothing to worry about, right?

    What I'm more worried about is criminals getting into the govt positions and abusing their power to use this information.

    Who is watching the watchers?

    June 6, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  7. get the facts

    Just because it is authorized in the Patriot Act, doesn't mean it is "lawful".

    Actually, since the Patriot Act is a law, it does make it lawful. If you disagree with the content of the law, that's an entirely different matter. If you feel strongly about it, maybe write a letter to your Congressman and/or Senators.

    I do find it ironic that all the conservative posters here spew venom towards Sen Feinstein and Obama but we didn't here a peep out of any of them when Bush signed the Patriot Act. I guess as another poster has stated: IOKIYAR.

    The Patriot Act was passed under Bush's watch - some blame there. It was renewed under Obama's watch - some blame there too.

    June 6, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  8. Howie

    Of course the top Republican agrees with this, more right wing nazi police state action. Unfortunate that the Democratic leaders go along, must see it as an extension of the nanny state. Both are criminally wrong, this is evil. OUr country was founded on the principles of freedom and privacy.

    June 6, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  9. Boo

    Our illustrious government (PLEASE NOTE SARCASM) should be reminded that because of their persistant meddling in other nations' business under the auspices of "spreading democracy" is the reason for all of this. When our government ceases and desists with the meddling and war-mongering around the world, maybe, just maybe ALL OF THIS WOULD END.

    June 6, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  10. Sam

    It shouldn't be.

    June 6, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  11. Norman

    This really put the brakes on the Boston Marathon guys didn't it... Opps, they must not have had "Business Accounts"..... What tools our Congress men & women have become. They couldn't find their posterior with both hands.......

    June 6, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  12. capt. video

    You mean to tell me that you need millions of phone numbers to track those you suspect? What B.S.,!

    June 6, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  13. HenryB

    Well, at least the Republicans cannot turn this into their scandal du jour since they were fully briefed.

    June 6, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  14. Malory Archer


    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.


    Some of us have been demanding it for a decade but our demands fell on deaf ears. Thank God for President Obama – since he now has the authority to do what the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue did with the backing of his mouth-breathing supporters, those same mouth breathers are now calling for an end to these abusive tactics! If not for President Obama they'd still be calling the dems and "libruls" who complained unpatriotic, anti-American, accuse of of supporting the troops and advising that if we had nothing to hide we should get over it. At least now maybe this bad legislation will go the way of the dinosaur.

    June 6, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  15. sickofit

    This country is only one or two more stupid laws away from imploding. I hope they keep it up. As my Name implies, I am absolulely sick of our broken, corrupt, self serving government. I think this is more about the paranoia that the wealthy elitists who currently run "our" government and the world are experiencing. They are so scared of losing power they would destroy us all in an attempt to keep it...... or maybe I'm just crazy!

    June 6, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  16. DAZZY

    So because something has been done for 7 years, it's lawful.

    Wow, just wow. Typical politician logic.

    So to anyone using drugs over 7 years, rejoice, it's lawful!

    June 6, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  17. Marshal Right

    So when the GOP does it, it's wrong, but it's okay when democrats do it?

    June 6, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  18. Eric

    Murdering Jews in Nazi Germany was made lawful. Just because it's lawful doesn't mean it's right.

    And no, I am not saying that murdering innocent people is anything remotely like what the government is doing now. I'm just simply making a point that just because something is lawful doesn't mean it's right.

    June 6, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  19. Lynda/Minnesota

    "But all of that was OKAY with the right wing then because George W. Bush "was keeping America safe".

    There is absolutely no sense trying to understand these people's mindset, Rudy. You and I (and a few others) know exactly who they pen themselves as, and what was said by them prior to January 2009.

    As for me? I took my rose colored glasses off the day I watched what CAN happen when Americans forget we aren't as beloved world-wide as much as we think we are, and that - yes - there really are some very bad people who would, and will, cause us as much pain, grief, and anxiety as we are willing to allow through our own stubborn pride of thinking ourselves as invincible.

    June 6, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    " What boggles my mind is the liberals and civil libertarians on this thread defending this action in the name of "keeping us safe". "

    Sort of like Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who authored the Patriot Act, pushed for its passage and defended it vehemently, suddenly having a problem with collection of these phone records?

    Fact is, the GOP/Teatrolls want desperately to spin this into a reason to attack Obama and the NRSCC has already tried to label it a new "scandal" despite all of what was done being 100% legal...legal because of the GOP. That hypocrisy is not overrun by your petty attempt to mischaracterize the act of pointing out that hypocrisy as defending the Patriot Act. This is the GOP/Teatrolls' chickens coming home to roost. They are reaping what they sowed. Their sudden outrage towards what they themselves pushed for, authorized and defended when a GOPer was POTUS and they controlled Congress is the height of hypocrisy...and pointing out that hypocrisy does not translate into defending the Patriot Act. It simply means the GOP/Teatrolls have no credibility whatsoever in their attacks on Obama and should let the adults have this conversation so we can get the thing repealed.

    June 6, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  21. OldSchool

    We don't hear about all of the plots that are foiled in secret. There is word that an airline bombing was foiled in May that brought this stuff to light...

    June 6, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  22. Rudy NYC


    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.
    Can we start with Senators McConnell, McCain, Rubio, Cruz and Paul?

    June 6, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  23. Herewegoagain

    Like this is news? This has been going on for a while now, it's just on this particular company – they had a press conference on it because something was published. Nothing like "using a good excuse" for doing something completely unconstitutional. "Lawful" is only defined by the legislators who created the law. Therefore, this statement is ironic in that the very same people who created the law to begin with, then goes on to interpret it(!!) as being lawful.

    June 6, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  24. kacey

    if any of you think that this keeps us safe I have some bottom land and a bridge to sell you. Terrorism works because it will get through any security we throw up. "they have to be strong everywhere we only have to be strong in one place." Johnny Depp in dillinger.

    June 6, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  25. sickofit

    "Lawful"? They can make any "laws" they want and call them "lawful". It doesn't make the laws just. They can even make differnet sets of laws. Laws for us and then laws for "them". Insider trading is illegal? Well only if your not a member of the House or Senate. Stashing money in off shore accounts and not paying taxes on it is "legal"... but then the only people who can do that sort of thing are the same ones who bribe our officials or our officials themselves. the rest of us are too poor to be able to cheat the system..... but hey its "lawful".

    June 6, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
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