The House voted to renew for six years a controversial surveillance program that may collect the content of Americans’ email, text messages, photos and other electronic communication without a warrant, USA Today reports. The vote was 256-164 to extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. An alternative bill supported by civil liberties groups failed. It would have required federal agents to get warrants before searching through Americans’ data that is collected when the U.S. government spies on foreigners abroad.
The program was approved by Congress in 2008 to increase the government’s ability to track and thwart foreign terrorists after the 9/11 attacks. It was designed to spy on foreign citizens living outside the U.S. and bars the targeting of American citizens or anyone residing in the U.S. Critics say the program also sweeps up the electronic data of innocent Americans who may be communicating with foreign nationals, even when those foreigners aren’t suspected of terrorist activity. The program is set to expire on Jan. 19 unless Congress acts. The Senate still must vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has vowed to filibuster the legislation passed by the House, but the Senate is ultimately expected to approve the bill. President Trump offered a series of confusing tweets about the bill Thursday morning, prompting Democrats to ask for a delay in the House vote. Republican leaders refused.