Bipartisan senators roll out stronger bill to limit NSA surveillance

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Md.

With support from Democrats and Republicans, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Tuesday introduced a bill to limit the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance programs. Leahy's proposals would go a step further than the limits included in a bill passed in the House in May.

"The House bill, though clearly intended to end bulk collection, did not do so effectively," Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "This bill ensures the ban on bulk collection is a real ban on bulk collection."

Both the House and Senate proposals would stop the government from indiscriminately sweeping up all phone metadata. However, the House bill would allow the government to compel telecoms to hand over metadata found with broad, open-ended search terms. Under Leahy's bill, the government would have to narrowly limit its searches based on specific search terms.

The House proposal was watered down earlier this year after the Obama administration pressured Congress to amend it, but Leahy said Tuesday he worked closely with a whole range of stakeholders -- including intelligence officials, civil liberties groups, the tech industry and others -- to build up support for it.

Now is the time, Leahy said, to determine "whether our government should have power to create massive databases of information about its citizens, or whether we are in control of our own government."

It's well understood, Leahy continued, that "the government cannot just walk in your house and rifle through your drawers... without due process in law and search warrants. But that's not how we keep our data any more, we keep it in computers."

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a lead co-sponsor of the bill, added on the Senate floor, "This is an issue that is neither Republican nor Democratic... The immense power of government has expanded over time with advances in technology."