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House committee approves bill to end NSA phone records program

Grant Gross | May 4, 2015
A U.S. Congress committee has overwhelmingly approved legislation designed to stop the bulk collection of U.S. phone records by the National Security Agency.

Sensenbrenner and several other committee members voiced support for the ideas in the amendment, but said Republican leaders in the House have promised to kill the USA Freedom Act if it includes language to limit the NSA program targeting the content of messages sent to and from suspected terrorists.

The amendment would be a "poison pill" for the bill at a time when Senate Republican leaders are gearing up to pass an extension to the Patriot Act's phone records collection program with no new limits, Sensenbrenner said.

Several opponents of the amendment promised to work with sponsors to pass it another way. Backers of the amendment can attach it to "every appropriations bill that comes down the pike," said Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican. Under House rules, the chamber's leaders generally cannot limit the type of amendments offered.

Backers of the amendment complained that the committee was bowing to political pressure instead of protecting U.S. residents' Fourth Amendment constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Judiciary Committee needs to uphold constitutional protections, Poe said. "We're not talking about postponing building a bridge," he said. "We're talking about postponing the Fourth Amendment."

The USA Freedom Act would prohibit large-scale collection of business records from an entire state, city, or zip code. It would also allow businesses who get records requests from the FBI through its national security letter program to challenge orders requiring those businesses to keep quiet.

The bill would also create a new panel of experts at the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to advise judges about privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters.

 

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