Friday May 27th, 2016 8:25AM

Senate panel OKs limited surveillance rollbacks

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Leaders of a Senate panel that oversees U.S. intelligence issues said Thursday it has approved a plan to scale back how many American telephone records the National Security Agency can sweep up. But critics of U.S. surveillance programs and privacy rights experts said the bill does little, if anything, to end the daily collection of millions of records that has spurred widespread demands for reform.

Legislation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was approved by an 11-4 vote, would increase congressional and judicial oversight of intelligence activities. It also would create 10-year prison sentences for people who access the classified material without authorization, according to a statement released by committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the panel's top Republican.

Just how far it would scale back the bulk collection of Americans' telephone records was unclear.

The statement said the plan would ban bulk collection of records "under specific procedures and restrictions." Chambliss spokeswoman Lauren Claffey said some of the telephone metadata collection would continue, so long as intelligence officials followed rules for how it can be used.

Only certain people would have access to the phone data, according to the bill. It also would bar the NSA from obtaining the content of the phone calls. The current program only allows the NSA to collect phone numbers and times of calls and cannot listen in on phone calls without a warrant from a secret court.

"The threats we face - from terrorism, proliferation and cyberattack, among others - are real, and they will continue," Feinstein said in the statement. "Intelligence is necessary to protect our national and economic security, as well as to stop attacks against our friends and allies around the world."

She said "more can and should be done" to increase transparency of the surveillance and build public support for privacy protections.

But Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said the legislation allows the bulk collection to continue under certain safeguards. He called the safeguards a positive first step but said the NSA should stop sweeping up Americans' phone records and only obtain those that are connected to a specific terror plot.

Privacy advocates who have long called for the end of broad government snooping bristled at the bill, which they said would merely legalize the surveillance that the NSA has quietly undertaken since 2006.

"It's fitting that Senator Feinstein took Halloween to remind us why she's the favorite senator of the NSA's spooks," said David Segal, executive director of advocacy group Demand Progress. "Using squishy public relations language, she is striving to leave the impression that her bill reins in the NSA's mass surveillance programs - but it does nothing of the sort. ... Lawmakers must immediately recognize this legislation for the sham that it is - and reject it outright."

The Senate intelligence bill rivals one put forward earlier this week, by House and Senate judiciary committees, that would eliminate the phone data collection program that was revealed earlier this year in classified documents that were released to the media by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The dueling legislation means that Congress ultimately will have to decide how broadly the U.S. government can conduct surveillance on its own citizens in the name of protecting Americans from terror threats.

Polls indicate that Americans widely oppose the surveillance program.

Meanwhile, the NSA issued a more forceful statement rejecting reports that it illegally collected millions of records from communications links between Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.

The Washington Post, citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has reported that the NSA sent records from the companies' internal servers to data warehouses at the agency's headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

The NSA said such reports have "misstated facts, mischaracterized NSA's activities, and drawn erroneous inferences about those operations." In a detailed statement, the agency said its activities are conducted in accordance with law and policy. And it said the data collection goes after valid foreign intelligence targets that often use communications over satellite links, microwave towers and fiber-optic cables.

"U.S. service provider communications make use of the same information superhighways as a variety of other commercial service providers," the agency said. "NSA must understand and take that into account in order to eliminate information that is not related to foreign intelligence."

Under normal procedures, the NSA is required to sort data based on relevant potential threats and seek additional legal authorities to access the information if the communication involves an American.
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 2 years ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
Ethics laws set to take effect Jan. 1 in Georgia
After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
7:04PM ( 2 years ago )
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 2 years ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft
The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.
2:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Congress letting 55 tax breaks expire at year end
In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty - once again - for millions of individuals and businesses.
2:21PM ( 2 years ago )
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 2 years ago )
Amid shouts of 'shame,' House GOP defeats gay rights measure
Democrats shouted "shame," but House Republicans switched their votes and defeated a measure to protect gay rights
8:03PM ( 1 week ago )
CDC director Freiden warns GOP Zika bill is inadequate
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Wednesday that a House GOP measure to combat the Zika virus is inadequate to deal with the swelling threat to public health
7:36PM ( 1 week ago )
Trump unveils list of his top picks for Supreme Court
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, released Wednesday a list of 11 potential Supreme Court justices he plans to vet to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia if he's elected to the White House.
3:31PM ( 1 week ago )
1st US penis transplant could bring hope to maimed soldiers
A 64-year-old cancer patient has received the nation's first penis transplant, a groundbreaking operation that may also help U.S. veterans maimed by roadside bombs
8:04PM ( 1 week ago )
States dig in against directive on transgender bathroom use
Politicians in Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere are vowing defiance over the Obama administration's new directive on transgender bathroom use
9:19PM ( 1 week ago )