WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly renewed a surveillance law that allows the government to monitor conversations of foreign spies and terrorist suspects abroad, while requiring approval from a secret court when Americans are targeted anywhere in the world.
Supporters emphasized that the bill is aimed at foreigners overseas, not Americans. The vote was 301-118 to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act monitoring provisions for five years.
Opponents said the legislation does not adequately protect Americans from unintentional interception of their communications. Several opponents said they would support a three-year extension of the law, which expires at year's end, while more information is gathered about threats to Americans' civil liberties.
The may run into problems in the Senate where Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has used a procedural tactic to prevent a vote. He is one of several senators who have unsuccessfully tried to learn how many Americans were caught up in the surveillance.
House supporters, however, assured Americans that their rights are protected.
"This is about foreigners on foreign soil. It's not a dragnet," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
He said Americans' rights "are alive and well here. This is one of those programs that has an inordinate amount of oversight to make sure we are not targeting Americans. In the odd case where an American is intercepted, there are very strict procedures on how to destroy that information and correct that problem. And it has not happened hardly, frequently, at all...."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the law would help stop terrorists "before they disable our defenses, carry out a plot against our country or kill innocent Americans."
Opponents argued they're not convinced that Americans would be protected.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. said, "While it's certainly appropriate for our government to gather foreign intelligence and while some degree of secrecy is necessary, it's also vital in a free society that we limit government, protect the constitutional rights of Americans here and abroad, and limit warrantless spying to genuine foreign intelligence.
"Unfortunately we have seen repeatedly how even the very minimal restraints Congress put on FISA have been violated," Nadler said. "We should address those abuses. Congress has an obligation to exert more control over spy agencies than simply to give them a blank check for another five years."
In a briefing for reporters on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11attacks, an Obama administration intelligence official was unable to say how many times the surveillance program inadvertently gathered intelligence about U.S.C citizens.
Key provisions of the bill would:
—Require an order of the special foreign surveillance federal court for the government to target an American anywhere in the world.
—Bar the government from targeting individuals unless there is a reasonable belief they are not in the United States.
—Require a court order for the government to acquire communications when the sender and recipient are both in the United States.
—Ban the government from targeting a U.S. person simply by monitoring a non-U.S. person who is part of the conversation.
Regular reviews are built into the law by the Justice Department, the director of national intelligence and Congress.
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