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. Willy Makeit


    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  2. Ron

    Their is nothing patriotic about spying on your neighbors. If successful why didn't the data gathering find the Boston bombers?

    Welcome to 1984

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  3. Grant

    Tracking all citizens with no evidence of wrong doing.

    This is what POLICE STATES do.

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  4. Jerry

    I can't believe the partisan morons who blame Bush for this. Not only has Obama quietly resigned the Partriot Act into law MULTIPLE times, but he has greatly expanded the intrusions on American rights. See the NDAA for example, killing of American citizens by drones... etc. etc. etc. This oppression has no party.

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    ""So, libs take a good law like the patriot act – they abuse it to violate the Constitution – and then blame Republicians for their criminal activity?""

    That's today's most misinformed partisan talking point comment. Hands-down. Gold star for you. Kudos.

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  6. JimmyNelson

    Why am I not surprised that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is one of the Senators that is ok with this? She is constantly trying to dismantle the Bill of Rights and desecrate the Constitution.

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  7. Jim is Dumb ^

    The Patriot Act is NOT a good law and by itself violates the Constitution. This is just another step towards complete information control by the government. Yes we can blame the Republicans for starting this but the Democrats look very comfortable with this too.

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  8. Bruce Eder

    I'm amazed at the contortions over this "news" story - it's been going on for years, and it was known years ago that it is legal. Adjust to it - it's the world we live in, and it's as simple as that, like cameras everywhere outside.

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  9. Firebranding

    @ Big_D- you said the Patriot Act has been scaled back..... no it has not. Nothing within the law has been changed, it has only been extended since it expired years ago.... They have not modified any elements of it..... What is scary is the fact that the recent government has actually been more abusive in its application of the Patriot Act. Eventhough it was signed into law and its lawful, does not mean it is a good law... this needs to stop and those front Obama to Boener should know better, but they don't unless the People make them see it as wrong by the vote.

    June 6, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  10. BigSir

    As a "big liberal" I say, much ado about nothing.

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  11. Fred

    Terrorists only use Verizon ... Funny !!!

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  12. Dave

    I'd rather be less safe from terrorists than have my privacy invaded like this. We are only a couple very small steps away from a police state.

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  13. ????

    Bravo to the govt for TRYING. If you have a better way to find tips on communication with terrorist, please, SPEAK UP. I am sure YOUR idea will not infringe on anyone's civil rights. If I lose a bit of my freedom to be safe, for my children to be safe, then I will gladly make that trade. Just remember, the terrorists follow no rules...huge advantage for them.

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  14. Brian

    "reasonable and articulate suspicion that the records are relevant and related to terrorist activity."

    So, then similar to the warrant-less wiretaps that have been used, almost exclusively, in drug-related cases against US citizens? Secretly gathering metadata on US citizens' lawful and private communication, with zero oversight, is just as dangerous and unacceptable as listening to the actual content.

    If you're a law-abiding citizen with even a modicum of understanding of your Constitutional rights, you should be offended and enraged.

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  15. djkruse

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

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  16. bczu

    I love all the Republicans posting on here about libs. When it was a Republican President telling us we needed this. And a Republican and Democrat defending it in this story. Damn libs...

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  17. Dave

    Why even the idea of this so wrong under Bush, but now that it is known to be happening under Obama, it is fine (by some of the same people that were screaming under the prior admin)?

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  18. oh come on

    I just don't understand why you people think you should have rights. We need to keep you safe from all the scary 12th century lunatics we have angered in service of corporate profits.

    Get over it.

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  19. NC

    You can't spell lawful without awful...

    June 6, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  20. Nils

    Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
    Benjamin Franklin 1759

    First, the problem is that it is lawful gather all, instead of specific, records approved by a Judge based on specific evidence as is done for any search warrant. Second, that anyone would assume that these records are safe. and will not be used for other purposes. Third, that it sets precedence for the government basically archive all communications which could then be used for any purpose including targeting particular demographics as was done by the IRS. Fourth, how long will the records be kept? Fifth, and positively equally disturbing, is that these Senators think its OK. Franklin's quote is quite appropriate. I do not give up my right to privacy. There is absolutely no justification for obtaining or reviewing any of my phone conversations. Though they would be boring they should not be privy to law enforcement without prior specific judicial warrant, that is I am a suspect. Not this "we know there is one out there somewhere..."

    This should not be done without notification to those whose records were archived and that notification should include recourse to have records removed.

    June 6, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  21. Mike

    If this "renewal is carried out by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court under the business records section of the Patriot Act" then why are American businesses & Americans themselves subjected to this "surveillance"? Power retention 101...keep your subjects poor, keep them ignorant, and keep them afraid. Keep them very afraid. I'm sorry but I'm not buying the terrorist excuse anymore.

    June 6, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  22. us_1776

    The Patriot Act has done more to damage our nation and the principles it was founded on than all the enemies our nation has ever faced.

    It is time to repeal this horrible law that is anything but "patriotic".


    June 6, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  23. Big Carl

    OK so just when are WE THE PEOPLE going to say that's it OUT ALL OF YOU IN D.C. ! And take this nation back you can't throw them out !!The Big Corporations will back them to the hilt can't you all please look at what's really going on !! WE the people have bin enslaved to them threw Taxes, Fee's, Intrusion of privacy, Welfare, Home land security, Patriot act, War's and guess what they don't have to live by the same rules as us .. This what made our great nation to begin with saying NO MORE RULERS yet no seems to care ? I say let the men in the black car come on over to my home I want us all to rise up as one and take back what is ours not the 1% and the politicians they bought .. STAND UP AMERICA !!! A call to arms is being heard thew out the land more then ever in the past !! RISE UP !!

    June 6, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  24. OK


    Those evil evil Republicans are taking freedom that was earned through the blood of our forefathers. Oh wait I forgot who was in charge of the Senate


    Oh, wait. You apparently also forgot who wrote the Patriot Act, and signed it into law. It is amazing how many people in this country were in a coma from 2000 through 2008.

    June 6, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  25. Jeff

    Oh. Two senators think the government spying on millions of innocent Americans is ok. I feel so much better now! What a waste of time. This government all branches is out of control. The patriot act needs to be repealed. I don't want to live in a police state just so I can feel "secure". From the IRS to DOJ to NSA this is 1984 in the real world. Enough is enough.

    June 6, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
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