House lawmakers offer bill to curb NSA's phone data collection

Some of the most conservative and liberal members of the House have come together on legislation to rein in the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance programs. 

The bipartisan House group has proposed legislation that would put limits on the federal government's ability to collect mass telephone records. Members of the group include conservative Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

"Vacuuming up details from the lives of ordinary Americans is not what Congress signed on to when it enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the 1970s, or when it amended the law through the USA Patriot Act a decade ago," the two wrote last week on HotAir.com.

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Their bill, which is supported by 31 other Republicans and Democrats, is the Limiting Internet and Blanket Electronic Review of Telecommunications and Email Act, or LIBERT-E Act, H.R. 2399.

It would amend the PATRIOT Act to prevent the mass collection of records that are not material to an authorized investigation related to foreign intelligence or terrorism.

Under current law, the government has to show that records are "relevant," but supporters of the bill note that recent reports show that under this standard, every telephone call can be collected. Under the bill, the government would have to show the relevance of these records is based on "specific and articulable" facts, and pertain "only to individuals under such investigation."

It also strikes a list of records that are "presumptively relevant" for the government to have.

The bill also requires the Attorney General to tell every member of Congress the information now just provided to the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. It would require the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice and the intelligence community to report on the impact that acquiring foreign intelligence has had on the privacy of U.S. citizens.

And, it requires the attorney general to make unclassified summaries of each FISA order or opinion available to Congress after 180 days.The collection of phone records is one of the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden, who remains at large and has been called a traitor for leaking the vast scope of the government's intelligence activities. 

Members of both parties have defended the programs, where were authorized by Congress, but some lawmakers like Conyers and Amash have said the leaks show the government's authority to spy on Americans needs to be curtailed.

"Many rank-and-file congressmen were shocked to learn that the law has been stretched to authorize such blanket surveillance," Conyers and Amash wrote last week.