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. discouragedinMI

    Easy for them to say when it's not their records.

    June 6, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  2. DustyOnes

    Need to keep an eye on all those OWS'ers

    June 6, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  3. ann

    Wow I cannot believe she is defending this practice!!!! I would gather a guess that 99.9% of the Verizon users are not a terrorist and have not done anything that would warrant our privacy be violated. This does not sound constitutional. Doesn't this violate the 4th amendment?

    June 6, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  4. Thomas A. Hawk

    Quick Draw McGraw, one of those "pals" is Sen Chambliss of Sen Feinstein.

    Do you seriously think they are pals? If so, you haven't been paying attention over the past several years. They agree on just about nothing...except this.

    You may be right that we shouldn't have surveillance like this but including #1 in your argument pretty much defeats your argument. I suggest removing #1 from your argument.

    June 6, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  5. sp

    This is much more than a political issue. Time to realize this friends.

    June 6, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  6. discouragedinMI

    First phone records on a few people. Then when it doesn't work, a few more people. Then monitoring of internet tracffic (oh, wait, they already do that). Then the monitor the press. Oh, wait, they do that already as well. Next will be telling the press what to cover and what not to cover. Then the beginnings of a system that can watch over all Americans. Then drones over US soil. Then missile strikes on US soil. Dare I continue?

    June 6, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  7. ajkgtowntx

    Political affiliation aside, This has been going since 2007. That was Bush Jr and all his infinite wisdom. I don't recall folks on EITHER side raising hell about it then. Now all of a sudden, it's Obama trying to take away our rights and freedoms. Gimme a freakin' break. First of all, now law or legislation can infringe upon our rights, THAT'S WHY WE HAVE A CONSTITUTION. Second, if you have a cell phone, use a computer, or social media....YOU HAVE NO PRIVACY. Don't take that as me condoning this, not at all. But let's keep things in perspective. Where was all the bitchin' and moanin' when the Patriot Act was first brought into play.

    June 6, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    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.

    What else have I left out....????????????
    You've abandoned common sense and have forgotten history. What a pity? Blinded by rage.

    The most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act were wrangled over in courts and won by the Bush administration.

    June 6, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  9. Too Real

    America is the terrorist and we have been watched for decades,so this is nothing new ,having people accept is new.

    June 6, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  10. Blaine

    Okay, I'm a good guy and I'm a democrat. I don't believe this is right. I know for a fact this violates privacy laws. WTF is wrong with Congress.

    June 6, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  11. obamaequalsbush

    You know what really works well?
    School indoctrination to have children inform on their parent's behavior.
    That works great.
    Probably next on the agenda.
    And this is the govt that will have all of our health information?

    June 6, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  12. WA_Libertarian

    I still don't see that recording Tsarnaevs' phone conversations resulted in anything meritorious! Boston STILL happened!

    June 6, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  13. DBSaint

    What a sham! Our right to privacy continues to be taken away. Seems the terriorists are slowly winning this war.

    June 6, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  14. Snarky MacFee

    Again they are more interested in my 2nd Amendment rights but dont give a poo about my 1st and 4th amendment rights. They can claim all they want about stopping possible attacks, but they cannot prove it (it might jeapordize the "mission"). I just dont like watching them wipe their tushies with the Bill of Rights. They need to protect us, perhaps, but who is going to protect us from Government?

    June 6, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  15. Appleseed

    How comforting... It's been going on for several years. I think we all know they have endless data stored on us somewhere. No, perhaps they're not spying on us as a populous, maybe it is those only suspected of terror plots... But if the definition of terror is broadened to encompass a new breadth of potential threats to national security, they have the data they need to know you better than you know yourself and pinpoint your location and routine. The point is, they have the data they need if you should fall under the title of national security threat.

    June 6, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  16. anchorite

    Why such animosity towards Bradley Manning when it is whistleblowers like him and Daniel Ellsberg who are the only reasons we know about this kind of thing?

    June 6, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  17. truthful

    Well...it doesn't go far enough!!! We need our government to stop pay as you go phones! Any loser can buy one and not provide their real identity!!! They just use cash to buy phone cards to refill their account. Then trash the sim for a new sim/phone number!! In fact, most providers don't even keep records of these pay as you go phones. And taxes??? Pay as you go phones pay less tax than monthly plans!! We need new laws.

    June 6, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  18. DC1973

    Lawful doesn't mean "right."

    It was wrong under Bush. It's wrong under Obama.

    And I am not the least bit pacified by a senator, one of the people charged with representing us in Washington, talking about "bad guys," like this is some bad 1940s John Wayne movie.

    June 6, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  19. rosethornne

    If that's not "unreasonable" search and seizure then I don't speak English.

    June 6, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    So basicly it is not a good idea to write laws as a knee jerk reaction to indicidents in the news. 9/11, Snadyhook for examples!!

    June 6, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "Hey sniffit. Give me a name of a republican who is taking phone records. It is really strange how liberals are ok with this breach of privacy."

    1. I'm not at all OK with it. I wasn't OK with the Patriot Act ever being passed, opposed it when the GOP and Bush first pushed it and I oppose it to this day.

    2. Back when Bush and Cheney and the GOP pushed it, authored it and defended Bush and Cheney's use of it to collect millions and millions of phone records, GOPers across the board had absolutely no problem with it being used in that manner. NONE.

    3. Pointing out the GOP/Teatroll hypocrisy is not tantamount to supporting the Patriot Act or what was done. Period. The point is that the GOP/Teatrolls have ZERO CREDIBILITY on this issue because of that hypocrisy, which proves that their hand-wringing and pearl-clutching and hair-on-fire screeching about the Constitution and tyranny and privacy invasions when Obama does essentially the same thing that they defended Bush for doing is all just partisan garbage and another desperate attempt to try to politicize something to try to get at Obama and help their campaigns 2014 and 2016.

    June 6, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  22. me

    why do we even have a constitution?

    June 6, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  23. ET

    Really?!?! It won't be "used". How about accessed? Way to word play.
    I get how this can help. If you suspect someone if being a terrorist you will already have access to their call history but why be shady? Get the warrant to access that info then look at it? It would take the same time. It's just being held in the phone companies hands until then. Instead of this corrupt government.
    I mean really? It's not like we should feel safer because its in the governments hands. Didn't they just have spy's get intel on our military weaponry?

    June 6, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  24. Sniffit

    "I know for a fact this violates privacy laws."

    It is impossible to "know" something that is untrue. This violates nothing and was explicitly authorized BY the Patriot Act and FISA.

    June 6, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  25. William Blanck

    If you have nothing to hide and a citizen in good standing, than you have nothing to worry about....let the government do its job to catch the terrorists....

    June 6, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
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