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. Won

    They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
    Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.
    He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.
    He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.
    People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.
    If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both.
    Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
    He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.
    Those who would trade in their freedom for their protection deserve neither.
    Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  2. Nan

    So.... A police state now.... Martial law next? This has gotten surreal...

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  3. texus

    Any action, which is not not doing any harm for the people and which helps saving people's lives and limbs, is not a bad idea...

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  4. NOMore

    Disagree 100% with this practice: what is to stop these intrusions on our privacy? If you do nothing wrong but say talk to conservative or liberals groups do you really want them to know? Especially given the IRS follies?

    June 6, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  5. 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 |

    "this government"? "you people"?

    Another one that slept through 8 years.

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

    just don't understand why the gov't needs a record of me calling my wife. I am all for security if there is just cause, but i fail to see how knowing that I talked to my wife helps that. it is invasion of privacy without cause and we have allowed the government to get away with it. Maybe we need a ben franklin to lead a new revolution.

    June 6, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  7. Sid Airfoil

    The government is simply collecting the phone records, but it can't examine them without a warrant? This sounds like collecting people's DNA but not using it in court without a warrant, which is what the SCOTUS just approved the other day. I sense a trend that hyperfast computing has enabled. The government records everything we do and everything we are using surveillance cameras, phone records, DNA samples, GPS trackers on our cars, etc., and then mines those data with fast computers after getting a warrant. It's hard to argue that merely collecting information is unethical, but I am starting to get a BAD feeling about all this. And I suppose this post will end up in the NSA's searchable database.


    June 6, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  8. John Boi

    "It's been going on for years." Okay well then I guess that makes it okay.

    June 6, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  9. Gem

    The drawback to publicizing this, like so many top-notch security measures, is that it will reduce the effectiveness. I don't think there's any reason to be concerned about my phone being monitored. Come on folks, mountain - molehill...

    June 6, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  10. j0nx

    Feinstein again I see. Aren't the American people demanding she be tried for treason via petition as it is?

    June 6, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  11. Fair is Fair


    who cares what they have.. track everything. what you say, read, buy, sell, see, hear... as long as we're safe
    I sure hope you're being sarcastic with this remark... otherwise, you are one sad sheep indeed.

    June 6, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  12. Obama Broke

    So if the government wants to snoop through my trash, mail, and come inside my house to look around to avoid another terrorist attack then it is ok? Those who will give up freedoms if promised security deserve neither.

    June 6, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  13. Mark

    Democrats will blame republicans and republicans will blame democrats, when will the people wake up? neither party cares about the people, they only care about expanding the government, Bush signed the patriot act, Obama signed the extension, neither party can blame the other on this issue. The only party that actually is for the people and the freedoms of the people is libertarian

    June 6, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  14. Liberty4All

    The most disgusting aspect of this is my fellow citizens who believe that this is ok or that it will actually reduce fatalities or terrorism. This has been going on for the past 7 years, yet we still had the incident in Boston. Then there are the people who think that if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide. So please, give me your address, tell me all about your most embarrassing secrets, your romantic life, etc. After all, if you didn't do anything wrong, why do you care if the government snoops on your most intimate secrets? All for the illusion of safety.

    This is America, the supposed home of the free and the brave. In reality we are the home of the safe(ty over freedom) and the cowardly.

    June 6, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  15. Raul X. Garcia

    Where was everyone when the Patriot Act passed? Asleep? Shame on all the pathetic cowards who are fine with this. Shame, shame, shame on you.

    June 6, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  16. Name

    Only who you deem the bad guys......

    June 6, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  17. John

    "If you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about."

    That's what most of the population were saying in: 1930s Germany, the Soviet Union during much of the 20th century, China from the late forties up to present day, Cambodia in the '70s, etc. For a lot of those people things went pretty badly and they had not done anything wrong. Do you really think something like what happened in those wretched countries could not happen here? Keep sheeping. Oops, I meant sleeping.

    June 6, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  18. Grant

    Tacking all citizens without evidence of guilt is what POLICE STATES do.

    June 6, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  19. Jim

    Were any of the millions of Americans effected by the court order members of the press?

    June 6, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  20. TheLocNar

    Funny. NOW Republicans are crying about violations of the Constitution/Patriot Act? Gee. What's different now than 2001? Anyone want to guess?

    June 6, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  21. Liberty

    both of your responses are just disgusting for so many reasons.... My favorite of course being the old If your doing nothing wrong then you have nothing to worry about line.

    June 6, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  22. MGB2012

    So now this uproar about what the goverment is doing becomes much to do about nothing, as congress knew, and leadership in both parties deems it a necessary evil.

    For all those of you so concerned about your 2nd amendment right I suspect you would be the same ones screaming about our governments lack of proactive actions to protect us from terrorists should something happen. I have no problem with them knowing who I called, check all you want.

    June 6, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  23. Robyn

    We have been raping you while you were unconscious every three months for seven years.
    So, you woke up this time. So what? Why are you complaining about it now?

    June 6, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  24. Netmonger

    @Jim: OMG – did you NOT read the article?!? This practice of the NSA requesting META-data from Verizon started 7 years ago – under the *Bush* administration?!? Do you not remember the scandal when the Klein document revealed Bush's warrantless wire tap programs? Its was part of the Patriot act - who was in power when the Patriot act was passed? And as far as 'abusing a law to violate the Constitution?!? What the heck is that even supposed to mean? That doesnt even make any sense. Comments like this betray exactly what is wrong with the country today. You didnt spend one moment reading the article much less researching the issue. Fact: The Republican controlled congress ( at the time) passed the Patriot act. Fact: A Republican president ordered the wireless wiretapping of which this META-data database was part of. And according the article, its just a *database* – actual requests for info must follow FISA. If you cant read the article, dont post a comment.

    June 6, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  25. bczu

    Won, that Banjamin Franklin quote had nothing to do with this. It had to do with giving a certain group tax free status.

    June 6, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
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