The FISA Improvements Act, which prohibits the collection of bulk communication records under the USA Patriot Act except under specific procedures and restrictions set forth in the bill, was passed by a vote of 11-4 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The legislation, which establishes criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for intentional unauthorized access to data acquired under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by the US and prohibits the bulk collection of the content of communications, needs to be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate before it could be signed into law.

"The NSA call-records programme 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," said Senator Diane Feinstein, Chairman of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Today the committee passed a bipartisan bill to do just that. The threats we face, from terrorism, proliferation and cyber attack, among others, are real, and they will continue. 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.

"As Congress has known for years, these NSA intelligence collection programs are vital to our national security and must continue. At the same time, the American people deserve to know that their privacy will be protected under these legal and necessary programs," said Vice-Chairman Saxby Chambliss.

"This bill accomplishes our goals of increased transparency and improved privacy protections, while maintaining operational effectiveness and flexibility for the intelligence community," he said. The bill among other things requires Attorney General-approved procedures for intelligence collection, including those collection activities conducted abroad and aimed at non-US persons, undergo a review process every five years and requires Senate confirmation of the NSA director and NSA inspector general.

It also authorizes the FISA Court to designate outside "Amicus Curiae" (Friends of the Court) to provide independent perspectives and assist the court in reviewing matters that present a novel or significant interpretation of the law.

(Agencies)

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