Feinstein vows to kill Leahy's NSA bill

Two powerful Senate Democrats are poised for a battle over the National Security Agency's surveillance powers.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyEPA head faces skeptical senators on budget cuts A bipartisan consensus against 'big pharma' is growing in Congress Going national with automatic voter registration MORE (D-Vt.) said he will push legislation to end the NSA's controversial program to collect records on all U.S. phone calls. He argued that the program invades Americans' privacy rights while doing little to thwart terrorist attacks. 

But Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinGraham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate Dem senators urged Obama to take action on Russia before election Senate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, argued that the phone data program is critical for protecting national security.

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"I will do everything I can to prevent this program from being canceled," Feinstein said during the hearing.

She suggested that if the program had been in place in 2001, it could have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She explained that in 2001, intelligence officials had vague fears of an impeding attack but did not have enough information to do anything about it. 

"That can never be allowed to happen in the United States of America again," Feinstein said. 

She acknowledged that leaks about the extent of the NSA's surveillance activities have eroded public trust in the agency, and she said some reforms are needed. 

She is preparing her own legislation that would require more transparency about the NSA's activities but would preserve the NSA's bulk collection of phone data. 

The program collects records, such as phone numbers, call times and call durations, but not the contents of the conversations. 

But Leahy argued that proposals like Feinstein's don't go far enough to protect Americans' privacy.

"Additional transparency and oversight are important," Leahy said. "But I believe we have to do more."

Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeThree more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Senate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess Club for Growth opposes Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Utah) echoed Leahy's call to rein in the NSA's phone data collection.

“The Fourth Amendment’s protection against ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ is designed to prevent against precisely the kind of suspicionless fishing expeditions that the government is currently carrying out under its telephony metadata collection program," Lee said.

But Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsMcCaskill attended reception at Russian ambassador's residence in 2015 Sessions: Supreme Court travel ban order a victory for separation of powers Russia recalling ambassador at center of Trump campaign controversy: report MORE (R-Ala.) appeared to side with Feinstein, arguing that people have little privacy interest in their phone records.

"The records are in the possession of the phone company. They're the phone companies' records — they're not your personal records," Sessions said.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamOvernight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership Graham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate GOP senator: Don't expect Trump to 'have your back' on healthcare vote MORE (R-S.C.) also expressed concern that ending the program would be a return to a "pre-9/11 mentality."