US Senate panel passes plan to restrict, not end, surveillance

WASHINGTON - The US Senate Intelligence Committee approved legislation on Thursday to tighten controls on the government's sweeping electronic eavesdropping programs, but allows them to continue.
In a classified hearing, the panel voted 11-4 for a measure that puts new limits on what intelligence agencies can do with bulk communications records and imposes a five-year limit on how long they can be retained.
Despite growing national concern about surveillance, the "FISA Improvements Act" would not eliminate the program, which became public earlier this year when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked information that the government collects far more internet and telephone data than previously known.
"The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight, and I believe it contributes to our national security. But more can and should be done to increase transparency and build public support for privacy protections in place," Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
The act also requires the special court that oversees the collection programs to designate outside officials to provide independent perspective and assist in reviewing matters that present novel or significant interpretations of the law.
It also requires Senate confirmation of the National Security Agency director and inspector general.
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