Senate Republicans have launched the opening salvo in a battle over government surveillance powers, introducing a bill to preserve intact the National Security Agency’s authority to store and search domestic telephone records.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sparked a public furor in 2013 when he leaked documents showing that the spy agency was secretly collecting telephone metadata – records showing the time, date, duration  and numbers called – for use in terrorism investigations.

Despite vows by President Obama to limit the program, and concern by civil liberties groups and some on Capitol Hill that it went too far in invading Americans’ privacy in the name of national security, the NSA archiving of U.S. phone records has continued essentially unchanged.

A report released Wednesday by the Director of National Intelligence indicates that the records were checked for 227 “known or presumed” Americans last year. That compares with 248 in 2013, the first year such figures were released.

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