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Senators Announce Bill That Ends NSA Phone Records Collection

The National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Md.
Saul Loeb
Getty Images
The National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Md.

Four U.S. Senators — Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky) — introduced legislation that would end the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records.

"It will amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to end dragnet domestic surveillance and other unjustified intrusions on Americans' constitutional rights, make improvements to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and provide for greater transparency from government entities and the private sector," Wyden's office said in a press release.

During a press conference, Wyden said that the reforms were necessary because the disclosures about secret government programs that emerged from leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, caused a "sea change" in public opinion.

Reuters reports:

"Besides banning the bulk collection of Americans' records, it would create the position of 'constitutional advocate' to represent the public in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that oversees the eavesdropping programs.

"And it would let Americans affected by the eavesdropping sue for damages in U.S. courts and allow companies to disclose more information about cooperation with government surveillance.

"'These reforms are the right thing to do, but they are also essential to the public believing that the system is complying with the law,' Blumenthal said."

The Hill reports that separately the chairwoman of the intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is working on a less drastic measure that would not end the collection of phone metadata.

"I believe we are making some substantive changes," Feinstein told The Hill. "They may not be enough for some people, and I understand that."

Bloomberg reports that as action was gearing up in Congress, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander delivered a keynote speech in which he said curbing his agency's spying abilities would be the "wrong decisions."

"We need our nation to understand why we need these tools, and what those tools mean to civil liberties and privacy and what they mean to defending this country," Keith said according to Bloomberg.

Wyden said their legislation would show that "our liberty and our security are not mutually exclusive."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.