Thursday, January 11, 2018

House Votes to Renew Surveillance Law, Rejecting New Privacy Limits

A yearslong effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant new privacy limits on the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program fell short on Thursday, as the House of Representatives voted to extend the legal basis for that program by six years with only minimal changes.

The vote, 256 to 164, centered on an expiring law, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which permits the government to collect without a warrant from American firms, like Google and AT&T, the emails and other communications of foreigners abroad — even when they are talking to Americans.

Before approving the extension of the law, the House voted 233 to 183 to reject an amendment that proposed a series of overhauls. Among them was a requirement that officials get warrants in most cases before hunting for and reading emails and other messages of Americans swept up under the program.

The legislation still has to go through the Senate. But fewer lawmakers there appear to favor major changes to spying laws, so the House vote is likely the effective end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance technology and privacy rights that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden.

Congress did, in 2015, vote to end and replace a program that Mr. Snowden exposed under which the N.S.A., under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, had been secretly collecting logs of Americans’ domestic phone calls in bulk. But lawmakers who favored extending that overhaul to the warrantless surveillance program fell short in adding to that feat.

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