Senators Announce Bill That Ends NSA Phone Records Collection

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Four senators at the vanguard of bipartisan efforts to rein in US government spying programs announced the most comprehensive package of surveillance reforms so far presented on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

The draft bill represented the first sign that key Republican and Democratic figures in the Senate are beginning to coalesce around a raft of proposals to roll back the powers of the National Security Agency in the wake of top-secret disclosures made by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"The disclosures over the last 100 days have caused a sea change in the way the public views the surveillance system," said Democratic senator Ron Wyden, unveiling the bill at a press conference alongside Republican Rand Paul.

"We are introducing legislation that is the most comprehensive bipartisan intelligence reform proposal since the disclosures of last June," he said.

Wyden said the bill would set a high bar for "not cosmetic" intelligence reform, on the eve of a series of congressional hearings into the NSA's surveillance powers that will begin on Thursday.

The two other senators supporting the bill were Democrats Mark Udall, a long-time ally of Wyden, and Richard Blumenthal, who has been at the forefront of efforts to reform the secretive court process that grants surveillance warrants.

Their bill, the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, merges competing legislative proposals announced by the senators before the summer recess, and cherry-picks from ideas contained in about twelve other draft bills.

It would prohibit the NSA's bulk collection phone records of Americans under section 215 of the Patriot Act, the most controversial aspect of US surveillance revealed by documents supplied by Snowden to the Guardian.

The bill would also prevent a similar data trawl of internet communication records, which was stopped in 2011, and definitively close a so-called "backdoor" that potentially enables the NSA to intercept the internet communications of Americans swept up in a program protected by Section 702 of the of the Fisa Amendments Act.

There is limited, if any, support in Congress for limiting the NSA's ability of monitor or gather evidence on foreigners.

The bill fuses with a proposal originally made by senator Blumenthal, which aims to reform the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court, making the quasi-judicial process more transparent and accountable.

If made law, the act would require a "constitutional advocate" to be introduced into the opaque court process, so that the government could be challenged on privacy grounds in significant or precedent-setting..

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