Senators Push Bill to Limit NSA Surveillance of Americans’ Phone Calls

Would Actually Require 'Reasonable Grounds' for Data Collection

While the administration and Congressional leadership have been shrugging off the NSA surveillance scandals as overblown, several senators are pushing new legislation aimed at limiting the scope of some of the more onerous of the NSA schemes.

Sens. Mark Udall (D – CO) and Ron Wyden (D – OR) have proposed a bill (pdf) that would modify the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) related to data collection, requiring officials to show any collection is actually relevant to an already authorized investigation.

Having “reasonable grounds” to believe the data might conceivably be relevant would seem like a relatively low bar, but it would be dramatically more than appears to be required at the moment, since the NSA has been able to get FISA approval to collect meta-data on literally all of the phone calls coming out of major telecom companies’ customers, even though clearly they have no reason to believe that the vast majority of phone calls made in the United States are automatically relevant to ongoing terror probes.

Another bill is going with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D – OR) and Mike Lee (R – UT) trying to declassify the court rulings that authorized some of the largest NSA surveillance schemes, which are collecting huge amounts of data on all Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV) said he was willing to “look at” the proposals, but added that they will have to go through the slow-moving committee process and would not be given any special treatment in response to the revelations of huge amounts of ongoing surveillance. Since committee leaders like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA) are fine with the surveillance, getting reforms even considered is going to be a difficult task indeed.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of