The US House of Representatives narrowly approved continuing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ telephone records under the PRISM program after a fierce debate pitting privacy rights against the government’s efforts to thwart terrorism.
Wednesday night’s 217-205 vote was unlikely to be the final word on government intrusion to defend the US and Americans’ civil liberties.
A vote marked the first chance for lawmakers to take a stand on the secret surveillance program since former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents last month that spelled out the monumental scope of the government’s activities.
Republican US Representative Justin Amash had challenged the program as an indiscriminate collection of telephone records, saying his effort was to defend the US Constitution and “defend the privacy of every American.”
On Twitter, he vowed: “We fight on.”
His measure, offered as an addition to a US$598.3 billion defense spending bill for next year, would have canceled the statutory authority for the NSA program, ending the agency’s ability to collect telephone records and metadata under the USA Patriot Act unless it identified an individual under investigation.
The House later voted to pass the overall defense bill, 315-109.
The issue created unusual political coalitions in Washington, with US President Barack Obama’s administration, national security leaders in Congress and the Republican establishment facing off against libertarian-leaning conservatives and some liberal Democrats.
The measure challenging the surveillance program faces strong opposition in the Senate and from the White House and is unlikely to survive in a final spending bill.