Durbin targets NSA surveillance programs with spending bill language

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has included language in the 2014 Defense spending bill that would require the National Security Agency (NSA) to disclose more information about its surveillance programs.

The measure would require the NSA to disclose the number of phone records it has collected through its bulk surveillance program and how many records were reviewed by NSA officials. 

The NSA would have to reveal when its bulk data collection activities began, how much the programs cost, the types of records it collects and any future bulk surveillance plans.

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The agency would also have to identify terrorist activities that were disrupted because of the surveillance program.

Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, added the language to the spending bill on Friday.

"I believe the government can obtain the information it needs to combat terrorism in a far more targeted manner, rather than casting a dragnet for information about millions of innocent Americans,” Durbin said in a statement. “In the end, Congress permitted this type of intrusion because too few demanded a balance between security and our constitutionally protected freedoms. I hope this provision will help reopen the debate.”

Leaks from former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been collecting data on virtually all U.S. phone calls. The records include phone numbers, call times and call duration, but not the contents of the conversations.

The NSA says that officials are only allowed to access the database if they have a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that the number is associated with terrorism.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) sponsored an amendment to the House's defense spending bill that would have barred the NSA from collecting records on people not under investigation.

The Amash amendment drew opposition from both parties' leaders, national security officials and the White House, but still attracted the support of 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats in falling just seven votes short of passage.