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Ms. Feinstein said her bill will expressly prohibit the intelligence community from spying on the content of phone calls and will put into law the requirement that the records can be checked only when there is a “recent articulable suspicion that a phone number is associated with terrorism.”

She also said the legislation would cut the amount of time the records can be kept, and would require agencies to report on how many queries they make every year, the number of times those inquiries produce good intelligence leading to warrants, and the number of phone numbers checked.

But she said she believes the fundamentals of the program are constitutional and legal and that it is up to the administration to sell its usefulness to Americans.

“It’s clear to me that the public has a misperception, and that must be corrected,” she said.

Other lawmakers suggested more changes: Sen. Angus S. King Jr., Maine independent, said he wanted indicators of potential wrongdoing sent straight to an independent authority outside of the executive branch. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, said adding a nongovernment entity to the process could help as a privacy check.

The committee is expected to hold a meeting next week to vote on Ms. Feinstein’s bill and amendments to it, but that will be behind closed doors. The text of her bill won’t be released until after the committee is finished.

Ms. Richardson at the ACLU said she thinks the bill will clear Ms. Feinstein’s committee but will have a tougher time in the full Senate because of opposition from a coalition of liberals and conservatives.

One key lawmaker, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, has said he believes the government is misusing the Patriot Act — specifically Section 215, which the government says allows the phone program.

“In my view, and I’ve discussed this with the White House, the Section 215 collection of Americans’ phone records must end,” Mr. Leahy said in a speech at Georgetown Law Center this week. “It is not making America safer and the government has not made its case this is an effective counterterrorism tool.”