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. Brain user

    Anyone that still says "libs" probably has outdated values Jim

    June 6, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  2. Matthew Fisk

    Lawful and right are worlds apart. The patriot act has never been a just law. It was enacted under duress after the senseless murder of thousands of US citizens. Go after gun nuts, Dianne. They continue to kill many more thousands of innocents than Al Qaeda did on September 11, 2001.

    June 6, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. Hadenuffyet

    I'm truly sorry for the upcoming generations , they'll never know what freedom and liberty were really about.

    June 6, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  4. charles

    I salute the senators for coming out on this. Americans should all learn that they have to sacrifice something even if it means evading their privacy. I don't have anything to hide myself and therefore not bothered about even if they listen to what I talk. there are so many bad people who the country cannot effort to let off the hook for the sake of privacy.

    June 6, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  5. OldManAl

    This is for domestic surveillance only.
    No foreign services are being monitored.
    Anyone wanting to avoid US capture of their activities can use an international phone with a non US contract.
    So, foreign terrorist are not the target.

    June 6, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. Evian Bidet

    what a disaster..

    they are listening..

    they will soon be watching us (more) with drones..

    to the person that said (in somewhat retarded English) that if you have nothing to hide don't worry about it.. you are a fool.

    June 6, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. Robb

    the recent scandals should wake up every person in this country that it isnt a Dem problem or a Repub problem...it is a BIG govt problem. The difference here is Obama is more blatant in thumbing his nose directly at the Constitution and the American people!

    June 6, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  8. Ben

    Oh yeah, phone surveillance is working just great. The Boston bombers were basically handed to the FBI on a golden platter and they still couldn't prevent those bombers from doing what they did. Don't buy into the trash coming out of the Senator's mouths. Phone surveillance is not going to stop terrorists from doing what they are already doing.. Phone surveillance is sketchy and immoral. More proof that America's morals are going down the crapper.

    June 6, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  9. Allen Syverson

    Amendment I

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Amendment II

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Amendment IV

    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 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  10. yeahright


    Fitting, the Senator trying to destroy the 2nd Amendment apparently has other amendments she wants to destroy.

    June 6, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |

    Hey Bob, who wrote and signed the Patriot Act into law?

    June 6, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  11. Pete in Guilford

    "The Patriot Act was and still is, the Victory over the US that Al-Queda wanted.

    We "fought" Communism and the Cold War for 40 years on the basis that "Communism" was "1984". But look at how quickly Bush and the Repubs grabbed the SAME POWERS as thje USSR when they had the 911 "excuse" and the devious opportunity"

    I totally agree Tony. The great thing is, fighting the Cold War made a lot of people a lot of money! What a waste.

    June 6, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  12. Fair is Fair

    If Obama and the dems were so against the patriot act (one of the few things I agree with them on), why on earth have they not only done nothing to repeal it, but have perpetuated it?

    June 6, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  13. Thezel

    who cares what they have.. track everything. what you say, read, buy, sell, see, hear... as long as we're safe

    June 6, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  14. Saboth

    "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither."

    June 6, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  15. ja

    ##%%)&, bush started the mess, patriot act, nanny panny gop

    June 6, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  16. Paul

    So now that you people have allowed this government to tear up the constitution, who is supposed to protect us from it?

    June 6, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  17. Rickapolis

    Just because it's been going on for sometime DOESN'T MEAN IT'S PROPER!

    June 6, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  18. steve

    In twenty years we we all be sorry we let this happen....but people are too caught up in their smart phone facebook life's to give a damn

    June 6, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  19. ricke

    Real patriots don't spy on their neighbors. Real "comrads" do.

    June 6, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  20. kevin

    I LOVE IT !!!! Libs/Dems campaigned for their messiah Obama that he was different, not a politician, his administration would be transparent and most importantly they cursed The Patriot Act when Bush passed it. Now it is OK because it is being administered by their messiah. I wonder when the next Republican president uses the IRS to attack moveon.org and taps the AP "journalists" phones, will that be ok too ? I hear Gitmo is actually becoming a favorite vacation spot for liberals now that Obama has still not made good his campaign promise to shut it down.

    June 6, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  21. Jason

    The problem with this is that we now know without a doubt that we can't trust the government. IRS, EPA, Justice Department. All very powerful agencies have been proven to use their power to target their enemies. The more scary truth is that the Obama administration is probably behind all of this and nobody is saying that publicly. How can so many agencies controlled by the White House be so bad without public outcry?

    June 6, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  22. Dean K.

    Perhaps it is "lawful" since they keep passing these insane laws that are contrary to constitution but it is most certainly not constitutional as it quite clearly impeaches the 4th amendment.

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  23. CJ

    The issue we little people have is there is no oversight, no one is being called to the table for abusing this power and there are no consequences for people that do abuse it.

    What makes people think its being abused? Maybe because no one believes there are a million terrorists in this country...if there arent then why did they need to tap so many phones? If they say there are then why are they not under arrest?

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  24. Wow1234

    How can so many people not understand that this has been going on for 10+ years???

    Where have you people expressing outrage been all this time?

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  25. steve

    Oh it works and prevents deaths so that makes it ok, police states tend to work very well like that I guess.

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
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