A U.S. House of Representatives committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to advance a bill that would end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' telephone records, one of the most controversial spy programs revealed a year ago by former contractor Edward Snowden.
The House Judiciary committee voted 32-0 to back the measure, which would end the NSA's gathering information about telephone calls and storing them for at least five years. It would instead leave the records with telephone companies.
The bill would allow the NSA to collect a person's phone records, and those of two contacts, if investigators can convince a judge they have a reasonable suspicion the person was involved in terrorism.
The legislation still faces several hurdles before becoming law, including winning the approval of a majority in the full House, as well as backing in the U.S. Senate. It is similar to NSA reforms proposed by President Barack Obama.
"We applaud the House Judiciary Committee for approaching this issue on a bipartisan basis," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
"The Judiciary Committee-passed bill is a very good first step in that important effort, and we look forward to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence action on it tomorrow," the statement added.
Privacy groups said they were delighted with the support for the bill. "This is a historic turn of events in our government's approach to counterterrorism policies," Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislation Office, said in a statement.
The House Intelligence Committee will debate and vote on its somewhat less restrictive version of the package on Thursday, which could set up a standoff on the House floor.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded the House committee's action, although he said he wished it had gone further, such as including a strong special advocate in the secret court that oversees NSA surveillance programs.
Signaling that the fight over the surveillance programs was not over, Leahy said in a statement he would push for those reforms when his committee considers the legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act, this summer.
© Thomson Reuters 2014