By Justin Sink
The White House hailed a bill Wednesday limiting the NSA's ability to collect telephone call records as a “good first step” toward reforming the controversial surveillance program.
The unanimous, bipartisan vote by the House Judiciary Committee, advances legislation that would require phone companies, rather than the government, to retain telephone metadata. The legislation also limits the number of “hops” away from a terror suspect the government can investigate, and adds a team of privacy advocates to a top-secret surveillance court weighing national security questions.
“In March the president laid out his proposal to reform Section 215, and called upon Congress to act quickly to pass implementing legislation. We applaud the House Judiciary Committee for approaching this issue on a bipartisan basis,” National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “The Judiciary Committee passed bill is a very good first step in that important effort, and we look forward to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence action on it tomorrow.”
The Intelligence Committee review on Thursday will come as chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) is pushing an alternative bill, which some privacy advocates have complained does not do enough to limit the reach of the government. That legislation would not require the NSA to seek a court order every time it wanted to search phone records.
But Rogers has said he would consider supporting the Judiciary Committee bill if it were amended to allow for emergency searches of telephone companies’ databases.
The White House is hopeful lawmakers can reform the program before the end of a 90-day reauthorization of the controversial metadata program, which expires on June 20.