Schiff urges NSA to work with Congress on reforming phone surveillance program

Schiff floated this idea when speaking about a controversial surveillance program at a House Intelligence Committee hearing last month. The program, which operates under section 215 of the Patriot Act, collects the phone records of U.S. citizens from telephone providers and is used to help thwart terrorist attacks.

The records include the phone numbers that consumers call and the length of those calls but not the content of people's conversations or customers' identities. The NSA runs queries on this stack of data for phone numbers of interest.

Schiff argued that people's privacy concerns might be allayed if the telephone companies retained this data instead. This way, the NSA would have to approach the phone companies to query phone numbers of interest.

"In my view, this is not only technically feasible, but would better respect the privacy interests of the American people," Schiff said in a statement. "No longer would it be necessary for the government to obtain vast amounts of data unrelated to a specific investigative lead."

During the hearing last month, Alexander said the NSA and the FBI were looking into the proposal. However, he warned that officials are concerned that speed will be an issue and it will slow down their attempts to quickly thwart a terrorist attack.

Privacy groups have also expressed skepticism about the plan and fear it may open the door for potential data retention mandates, which they've fought in past legislation. Privacy advocates believe phone companies should only store call data for a limited period of time and no longer than necessary.