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. Mark

    I guarantee you this program does nothing to stop terrorist. If it had the Boston bombing would not have happened. But, what it does do is, it gets people used to the government over reaching and watching its communications so that when they decide to listen in on all phone conversations, the sheeple will just follow along with it because they have been trained to think that way.

    June 6, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  2. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    There's a big difference between NSA surveillance under Obama and the NSA under Bush. NSA under Obama is court mandated, thereby making it legal. NSA under Bush was a warrantless surveillance program, thereby making it illegal.

    June 6, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  3. Jon

    The government is taking baby step towards total and absolute control over every aspect of our lives. In a few generations there won't be anything the government can't know or do. One day we will look back and wondering how the hell it happened.

    June 6, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  4. Pete

    Yah its lawful by republicans stances since they ,Bushs partnership created it in the Patriot Act does just that infringing on a majority of Americans without them ever knowing it...Wasn't it Bushs anti terrorists policies with the Patriot Act and Homeland Security trying to tap every phone in America,that's their extremist plan and they'll deny it but truth be known they tried it till the ACLU came in and sued them over it being unconstitutional and after being caught..If Bush and his republicans had their way you'd have military check points at every state line and search,seizure would be legal even without cause at most stops ...Just remember what Osama BinLaden said he knew he couldn't defeat America militarily but he said he wanted to make everyone in America aware,scared that this country is vulnerable which was his psychological warfare plan and guess what America he won that fight didn't he after 9/11 and you know it with the added security and police awareness everywhere..Remember people keep your friends close and your enemies closer because you'll never know when you'll need either one of them someday like it or not!!

    June 6, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  5. Commonsense

    I really wish I could be surprised by this. If it was still in doubt, it's crystal clear now: the terrorists won.

    June 6, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  6. Greg C.

    Evidence of how this Administration has misused and abused the trust Americans placed in the fair and proper application of such measures is why everyone is up in arms. It's precisely why Americans were apprehensive of legislators passing such laws and it's one more reason why Gun Rights advocates know that any measure taken to restrict such rights is a slippery slope to all out gun control. This gov't has no transparency, it's demonstrated total disregard to our rights and now the media (liberal and conservative, alike) is exposing how this Administration has chosen to misuse, overreach, and blatantly lie to the American Public.

    June 6, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  7. Just an American

    I want my freedom back!!

    June 6, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  8. Phaerisee

    But Mom said I could do it!

    June 6, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  9. cgowens


    Everything Hitler did in Germany was lawful too.

    June 6, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  10. EvinAR

    Phone spying 'lawful'?

    I think they must have either meant 'awful' or 'lolful', because seeing our government with its pants down IS both disturbing and hilarious.

    June 6, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  11. Pat

    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.

    June 6, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  12. RJC

    Nothing to hide, nothing to worry about....


    The IRS

    June 6, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. snoozie

    I think that those who were not upset over this under GW have no legitimate right to complain now (and don't give me any of that "Obama is escalating" stuff). Personally, and as a liberal democrat, I don't like it under either administration, and think it should go.

    June 6, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  14. Rudy NYC


    NO RUDY NYC, it WASN'T ok at all ...... and there is no "right wing" monolith – grow up.
    It was "okay" with conservative Republicans and the Bush administration. They had to keep America safe, and later bragged about doing so on their campaign trails.

    If you do not believe in a "right wing monolith", then you really and truly do not understand what the word conservativism means. Look at what happens when a conservative disagrees with Rush Limbaugh. Look at how every single Republican in Congress has the uncanny ability to use the exact same phrases to criticize political opponents. It's almost as if the Republican has a hive mind at times.

    June 6, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    "Obama Supporter

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

    No, but scores and scores of GOPers did say that in response to those of us who opposed the Patriot Act in the first place and warned that it was going too far and authorized too much.

    BTW, Godwin says hi.

    June 6, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  16. Joe Mama

    @Fair is Fair – Hey um I'm not sure you understand what a libertarian is. Like yes it does have many letters in common with the word liberal, but... um... yeah you might want to give that a quick Google. You may discover the irony of that part of your post. But other than that, I agree with you completely.

    June 6, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  17. Richard Bastion

    TERROR ALERT TERROR ALERT!! Bastion buddies unite!!!!!

    June 6, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  18. wny

    Stop crying. You want to catch terrorist or you want them to succeed with their plans. can't always get something for nothing. And the nsa In not interested in your 1 900 and booty calls, they are looking for real security threats

    June 6, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    Shorter GOP/Teatrolls: "This is horrible. The Patriot Act was never intended to authorize a Dem President, especially...*gasp*....a black one, to do these things, only a Rep President."

    June 6, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  20. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    Just a matter of time before democrats use their all inclusive argument.

    June 6, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  21. general tso

    @Blahblah...Bush has been out of office for almost 5 years. Maybe it's time for you to stop beating a dead horse and come up with some original material....your thread is about as lame as someone ragging on Clinton.

    June 6, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  22. Richard Bastion

    Obama following the law?!?! Lol keep thinking that. And stop blaming Bush already for F sakes.

    June 6, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  23. ScottCA

    No @#$% it works, but so would keeping every American under constant surveillance, the cost of these intrusive measures are our freedom, and that cost is much too high.

    June 6, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  24. Quick Draw McGraw

    1. Feinstein and her pals say it's lawful but is it Constitutional?

    2. This surveillance obviously didn't prevent the Boston Marathon Bombing no did it?

    3. In fact, none of these government spy and law enforcement agencies have been earning their paychecks since the attacks of 9/11.

    Let's add it all up shall we.....

    1. 9/11
    2. Benghazi
    3. Boston

    What else have I left out....????????????

    June 6, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    "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."

    I haven't quite decided whether I should care or not care if I get offed by anyone, let alone a terrorist. It's not up there with things I worry about overmuch about. Then again, neither am I going to question our government's effort to try and keep us safe because I am NOT (nor do I feel the need to be) privy to all the pesky decision making details. Fact is, the next "threat" against America will no doubt cause those who are very opinionated now to yell the loudest. Benghazi comes to mind.

    June 6, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
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