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The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for six years with minimal changes, rejecting a push by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant privacy limits when it sweeps up Americans’ emails and other personal communications. The vote, 256 to 164, centered on an expiring law that permits the government, without a warrant, to collect communications from the US companies like Google and AT&T of foreigners abroad — even when those targets are talking to Americans. Congress had enacted the law in 2008 to legalise a form of a once-secret warrantless surveillance programme created after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Hours before the vote, President Donald Trump set off last-minute turmoil as Republicans scrambled to secure enough support to extend the law without new privacy constraints. In a Twitter post Thursday morning, shortly after “Fox & Friends” aired a segment discussing the issue, Trump expressed skepticism about government surveillance — even though a White House statement issued on Wednesday night urged Congress to block significant new constraints on the NSA programme. The legislation must still pass the Senate. But fewer senators appear to favour major change to spying laws, so the vote on Thursday in the House was the pivotal test. The Senate began considering the newly approved House Bill on Thursday afternoon; Senators Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, and Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, are expected to oppose the measure in the coming days. Snowden’s disclosures in 2013 ushered in a period of intense interest in surveillance. Supporters of those changes contended that the overhaul was needed to preserve Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the internet era.
But intelligence and law enforcement officials argued that it was unnecessary, and dangerous, to limit security officials from being able to freely gain access to information the government already possessed.But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, moved to essentially ensure that no amendments to the House legislation would be considered, and it appeared to be on a path to final approval when senators return to Washington next week. Snowden’s disclosures in 2013 ushered in a period of intense interest in surveillance. The post-Snowden privacy movement secured its largest victory in 2015 when Congress voted to end and replace one of the programs that Snowden exposed, under which the NSA had been secretly collecting logs of Americans’ domestic phone calls in bulk. But lawmakers who hoped to add significant privacy constraints to the warrantless surveillance program, too, fell short on Thursday. Before voting to extend the law, the House rejected an amendment that would have imposed a series of new safeguards. That proposal included a requirement that officials obtain warrants in most cases before hunting for, and reading, emails and other messages of Americans that were swept up under the surveillance. Supporters of those changes contended that the overhaul was needed to preserve Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the internet era. But intelligence and law enforcement officials argued that it was unnecessary, and dangerous, to limit security officials from being able to freely gain access to information the government already possessed.
© 2018 The New York Times News Service