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. Renee Marie Jones

    Apparently, the Senate and the Presdent of the United States believe that an unfounded claim of "keeps us safe" trumps the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court refuses to enforce the Constitution, so we are stuck.

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

    I think then we need to hold the Govt. responsible for Boston the same way they are responsible for Bengazi

    June 6, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "I don't recall folks on EITHER side raising hell about it then."

    Then you weren't paying attention, because all the liberals who have had to put up with getting called "unpatriotic," "un-American," etc during the village idiot's presidency were screaming extremely loudly about it and we all got ignored, told we were "aiding the enemy" and that we "shouldn't criticize the POTUS during wartime" etc. People threw a complete nutty over the passage of the Patriot Act and if you missed it, it's because you IGNORED it.

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

    These people make me sick with their blatant lies. This is going too far.

    June 6, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  5. Bill from GA

    The Patriot Act (what's patriotic about stealing our rights??) needs to be re-examined from top to bottom. With a Democrat as President, even the repubs might be willing to scale it back. They hate to have such power in the hands of a Democrat.

    Much of it, like much else W did, should be un-Constitutional, except the Supreme Court has become so partisan.

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

    This is exactly the thing 1930's Germany would have done, under the exact same guise, and call it exactly the same thing: "Protecting the homeland". It's scary.

    June 6, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  7. Andrew

    What if the crap we all see, left and right, is all partially true? Then it's actually a top-down revolution to create a new Feudal Era. Time for a bottom-up counterrevolution. Time to get over the faux political and wedge issues that keep us all from being good stewards of America. If it's just raw power, then it's time to redefine raw power.

    June 6, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  8. Richard Bastion

    Sniffit going on about how all liberals are gods ....so much for the tolerance you kind are always going on about huh.

    June 6, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  9. NameFrank Deery

    No, Feinstein, Boston negates your argument
    here! On top of the IRS scandal and Holder's
    abuse of the First Amendment, plus Al Gore's
    tweet, you better look at the thugs st 1600 Penn ave!

    Liberal media! There aren't enough tornadoes to cover this One Up!

    June 6, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  10. SamT

    @William Blanck
    That line of thinking is in direct violation of the 4th Amendment.

    June 6, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  11. sawdustjohn

    @William Blanck, I am so sick of people saying, "if you have nothing to hide" I supposed you would allowed the govt. to install cameras in every room of your house too? If they are not accessing the actual conversations then they have nothing that would/might indicate a terrorist act. Therefore they must be accessing the actual conversations too. Just because you drive by a bank doesn't mean you're going to rob it. Wake up man, unless it's too late for you.

    June 6, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  12. John

    Wasn't this one of the reasons given by those that manned the gas chambers in WWII" , "lawful"

    June 6, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  13. Rick

    So its UNAMERICAN to check to see if a group is trying to claim tax fraud but tapping our phones works to stop terrorist. No one is up in arms about this but we have 20-30 hearing about the IRS doing the right thing and checking to see if you are a legit organization. Every Verizon user should dump them and make the company bankrupt for giving in.

    June 6, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  14. chip

    Pretty sure terrorists don't have Verizon contracts, but use disposable phones because of the difficulty involved in tracing them. DUH.

    June 6, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  15. O

    That's great, but what is Congress doing to protect U.S. citizens against bank fraud, hedge funds etc.? The Patriot Act was bad policy in 2001, it's bad policy now. Congress continues to prove their irrelevance in the lives of working Americans.

    June 6, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  16. InMyHappyPlace

    I have read comments by where the Democrats are saying they were all against this and how it violated the Constitution. please explain why now it is a Democratic president and Congress that using it so freely and justifying it as "legal"? How two faced can you get. If it is so bad as you said, why are you not appealing it? I hated it when Bush got it passed and I hate it now that everyone uses it to screw over our Constitution.

    June 6, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  17. Yessir

    I thought the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars were supposed to get rid of terrorism. Please don't tell me it made things worse.

    June 6, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  18. Rosemary

    So since this is "legal" and necessary to keep us safe, then I guess the President and Congress won't mind us monitoring their phone calls either? And the IRS and Justice Dept. Just to keep us safe.

    June 6, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  19. Lostdorf

    Folks it's time to revolt! When a government tramples the Constitution then it's time to pick arms and get these would be tyrants out of Washington and replace them with People who believe that it should be one that is: For, By and Of the People.
    It's up to us to make sure that no one get in to Office unless they are committed to the Constitutions and the Bill of Rights.
    If the Author of this Bill could see what out Government has done to the Bill of Rights, He would turn around in his grave.
    It' time for Reform and Power to the People and not the Government and Corporations.

    June 6, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  20. Matt

    Metadata or not, this seems like a slippery slope. Don't the bad guys win when our privacy rights are eroded for our own good? Must be a better way. Maybe when the Russians and the Saudis provide us with good information we should listen.

    June 6, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "So since this is "legal" and necessary to keep us safe, then I guess the President and Congress won't mind us monitoring their phone calls either? And the IRS and Justice Dept. Just to keep us safe."

    Oh have no fear on that one: Not only are the GOPers/Teatrolls piling on the hypocrisy with their fake outrage over this, but Kirk (R-IL), who has of course known about all of this phone tracking stuff all along, has ALREADY tried to attack Holder during a public hearing by accusing him of tapping Congresscritters' phone lines. GOP/Teatroll partisan hypocrisy truly knows no bounds.

    June 6, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  22. Frank

    I have no problem with phone spying.

    It's unfortunate that it has to come to this. The fault is not on the government but it is on the people who are criminals who kills the innocent, who destroys families. Unfortunately there are people who are evil, that makes the government save innocent people from malicious attacks.

    June 6, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  23. may40

    THis is NOT about catching terrorist as most you of libs think!!!! This goes along with the IRS targeting conservatives, Obama can't stand anyone who says anything against him. I hate this regime.

    June 6, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  24. mark

    "It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years," he said.... who's the bad guys? weren't american patriots the "bad guys" to the IRS? How long before every legal citizen is the bad guy?

    June 6, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  25. mixnmatch

    I didn't like the Patriot Act when Bush was in office and I don't like it now with Obama in office. However, if you had no concerns about it when Bush was in office and are now bashing Obama or if you're an Obama supporter and you're trying to blame this on Bush, you're hypocrisy is showing. It's the same stuff, different day.

    If you have more than a one second attention span (Squirrel!!!), try to get the details before getting hysterical about the scope of the program. While I don't like the program out of concern for its potential abuse, it does not allow the government to listen to our conversations. They are collecting metadata (phone numbers, length of call, locations) about the call but nothing about the actual content of the conversations. Names, addresses and financial information are not provided. The reason that the information is being collected is because the phone providers keep it for a limited period of time. It allows the government to have access to data that might not be available from the phone provider when that information may be needed for an investigation.

    To make it clear - I don't like it and I would prefer it wasn't happening. I'm sure that more intelligent and creative folks than I could come up with less intrusive ways to ensure that this data is available for investigations for as long as is necessary while putting up a firewall between the government and the data to ensure that it's only used when absolutely necessary. However, let's not twist this into a rant against whomever you don't like between our current and former president or conflate this issue into big government spying on our phone conversations. It distracts us from having a serious conversation about how to address an area of concern for most people. How do we balance personal freedom and security?

    June 6, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
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