Leahy Aims To Patch Loopholes With A Revamp Of NSA's Data Collection

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is introducing a bill to overhaul the way the National Security Agency collects telephone data under the Patriot Act.

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Reining in the NSA's collection of Americans' phone records - it's been a major issue on Capitol Hill since Edward Snowden revealed the domestic spying program more than a year ago. NPR's David Welna reports on a bipartisan effort in the Senate to do that. The aim is to limit surveillance and force more disclosure.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The House already passed the bill in May, banning bulk collection by the NSA of Americans' phone records. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy says that legislation has too many loopholes, unlike the bipartisan bill he introduced today.

PATRICK LEAHY: This bill ensures that the ban on bulk collection is a real ban on bulk collection - that it's effective.

WELNA: Leahy's bill not only forbids the NSA from storing Americans' calling records as the House bill does. It goes further by sharply limiting the terms used to search data. Broad search terms such as states, zip codes or Internet service providers would not be allowed. Companies could disclose more frequently that they've been forced to turn over information. And a panel of outside civil liberties advocates would be added to the secret court overseeing such surveillance. Leahy admits it's only a start.

LEAHY: We could spend the next 20 years waiting to get 1,000 percent of everything we need. I'd like to get most of what we need and then work on the rest.

WELNA: Senate liberals have joined forces with GOP libertarians such as Utah's Mike Lee, who co-sponsored the bill.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: This is an issue that is neither Republican nor Democratic. It is neither liberal or conservative. It is simply American.

WELNA: The White House also backs the Senate bill. Still, passing it and then reconciling it with the house could take months. David Welna, NPR News, the capital.

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