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US House panel votes to end mass NSA surveillance

WASHINGTON--In a major congressional step towards curtailing widespread surveillance of millions of Americans, a House panel voted Wednesday to end the dragnet collection of telephone metadata.

The rare unanimous vote by the House Judiciary Committee provides strong bipartisan support for a measure that is backed by civil rights groups and could serve as a blueprint for a bill to be sent to President Barack Obama's desk that would ultimately halt the controversial intelligence policies.

The USA Freedom Act would forbid the National Security Agency's systematic scooping up of phone metadata — which includes numbers dialed, duration and times of calls, but not content.

It would require a secret surveillance court to issue an individual warrant, based on “reasonable articulable suspicion,” for each request by intelligence agencies to scour the database, which should be done only in relation to an existing investigation.

It would also boost transparency of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, create a panel of legal experts to ensure the FISA court adheres to privacy and constitutional rights, and allow communications firms, such as those ordered by the government to hand over data, to release more information about such requests.

“Today's bill unequivocally ends bulk collection (and) makes it crystal clear that Congress does not endorse bulk collection,” the measure's author, House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner said.

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