Senator Patrick Leahy's bill to limit mass surveillance was introduced to the Senate yesterday

Bill to ban mass surveillance put to US Senate

A bill to ban the US government's bulk collection of Americans' telephone records and Internet data has been introduced to Congress.

The legislation introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, which has White House backing, goes further than a version passed in May by the US House of Representatives in reducing bulk collection as well as narrowing how much information the government can seek in any particular search.

Revelations last year by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden prompted President Barack Obama to ask Congress in January to rein in the bulk collection and storage of records of millions of US domestic telephone calls.

Many American technology companies also have been pressing the government for changes after seeing their international business suffer as foreign governments worried they would collect data and hand it over to US spy agencies.

"If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years ago," said Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on the Senate floor yesterday.

The bill, called the USA Freedom Act, would prohibit the government from collecting all information from a particular service provider or a broad geographic area, such as a city or area code, Leahy's office said.

It would also expand government and company reporting to the public and direct the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews intelligence collection inside US borders, to appoint advocates on privacy and civil liberties issues.

In addition, Leahy proposed greater limits on the terms that analysts use to search databases held by phone companies such as Verizon Communications or AT&T.

But Congress leaves for a five-week break on Friday, and it was unclear if lawmakers would take on the legislation before November elections.

Leahy's measure "is an improvement on the House-passed version at every step," said Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Many other civil liberties and technology groups endorsed the legislation. The Information Technology Industry Council, which counts Google, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM among its members, said passing the bill would mean saving US jobs dependent on an open Internet by "effectively putting an end to bulk collection."

Several groups called for additional steps, noting that the bill left intact the presidential order guiding collection overseas and also section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which allows broad collection in the US of email to, from or about foreign targets.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have miles left to go," said Laura W. Murphy, Washington legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Leahy acknowledged there was more work to be done, saying "I'd like to get most of what we need, then work on the rest."

The Senate bill would end the bulk business-records collection of phone records authorised by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, enacted after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

It instead would authorise searches for call records "two hops" from a search term and limits the types of search terms. The records indicate connections and duration of calls but do not include content.

Leahy's bill would require the government to report the number of individuals whose information has been collected. It gives companies four options to report on the number of government requests they get.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said Leahy had done "remarkable work" balancing security and privacy concerns in the bill.

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