A key Senate committee approved today a measure that would give congressional blessing to the NSA's bulk collection of domestic telephone metadata, and bolster the legal underpinnings of the controversial snooping program.
Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the proposal (.pdf) sets the stage for a major legislative battle with a competing measure unveiled Tuesday prohibiting the data collection that began in 2006 and was first disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in June.
"The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight, and I believe it contributes to our national security," Feinstein said in a statement, after the committee approved the measure in private. "But more can and should be done to increase transparency and build public support for privacy protections…"
Among other things, the package specifically adds bulk phone-metadata collection to the business records provision of the Patriot Act. In 2006, lawmakers amended the act to authorize broad, secret warrants for most any type of "tangible" records, including those held by banks, doctors and phone companies.