(Recasts, adds sources on details of impact of bill)
By Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON May 8 A bill to end the government's
bulk collection of telephone records got a unanimous go-ahead on
Thursday from a second U.S. congressional committee, but the
measure, according to some sources, could actually enhance U.S.
Advancing the first legislative effort at surveillance
reform since former contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the
program a year ago, the House of Representatives Intelligence
Committee unanimously approved by voice vote the "USA Freedom
The measure would end the National Security Agency's
practice of gathering information on calls made by millions of
Americans and storing them for at least five years. It would
instead leave such records in the custody of telephone
The bill would allow the NSA to collect a person's phone
records if investigators can convince the secretive Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court they have a reasonable suspicion
the person was involved in terrorism. It would also allow NSA to
trace the person's calling patterns to "two hops" - to identify
all the numbers the individual targeted had called, and then to
further trace the numbers of the persons those people called.
But two sources familiar with the bill's details said it
would also make it possible for the NSA to collect metadata on
telephone users whose data had not lately been available for
collection by the agency.
The sources said the broad NSA collection program President
Barack Obama has decided to scrap had actually been collecting
less raw call metadata in recent years because of telephone
companies' move to flat-rate billing rather than charging
subscribers for individual long-distance calls.
Under reform plans Obama's aides discussed with Congress,
the NSA, after seeking approval from the secretive Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court, could require phone companies
to begin logging call metadata from the issuance of a court
order even if the subscriber had a flat-rate plan.
Two sources familiar with the bill approved by the House
committees said it was intended to empower the court to issue
The vote by the Intelligence Committee cleared the way for
the measure to be considered by the full House of
Representatives, a day after the House Judiciary Committee also
voted unanimously to advance a similar, but somewhat more
restrictive, measure addressing the collection of telephone
Both House panels approved language requiring the NSA to
obtain FISA court approval before asking companies for metadata,
except in emergencies. The Intelligence Committee originally
proposed that the NSA could ask the companies for the data and
then quickly seek retroactive court approval, but later
abandoned that position.
Michigan Republican U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, the
intelligence panel's chairman, and Maryland Representative Dutch
Ruppersberger, its top Democrat, said they were pleased the
measure garnered strong support from both Republicans and
"Enhancing privacy and civil liberties while protecting the
operational capability of a critical counterterrorism tool, not
pride of authorship, has always been our first and last
priority," they said in a joint statement.
The bill, a compromise version of previously introduced
legislation, remained several steps from becoming law. The
Senate has yet to make much progress on similar legislation. But
the bill's strong support by the two House committees improved
its chances after a year of sharp divisions over the revelations
Many lawmakers, especially those who work most closely with
the intelligence community such as Rogers and Ruppersberger, had
defended NSA program as legal and essential intelligence tools
that have saved Americans' lives.
Others expressed outrage and called for the immediate end of
the programs as a violation of Americans' privacy rights
enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
(Editing by David Gregorio, Peter Cooney and Eric Walsh)