The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to approve the extension by five years of a controversial law, that its critics claim allows for the warrantless surveillance of electronic communications like email and phone calls of not only foreigners but U.S. citizens.
The FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012, was passed by the House on Wednesday by 301 to 118, with 10 not voting.
The bill H.R. 5949 aims to extend the authority of the federal government to conduct surveillance pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 until Dec. 31, 2017. The authority under the 2008 Act is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31 this year.
"Yet again, the House has rubberstamped a law so broad and vague that, despite its passage four years ago, we still have little idea how the government is using it," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement.
It is at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment that Americans and their communications are fiercely protected from government intrusion, Richardson said. ACLU recommended that the law should be amended to include much stronger privacy protections when the Senate takes it up later this year.
The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 was signed into law by former U.S. President George W. Bush to enable intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance against terrorists overseas without having to obtain court approvals.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said in June that he will block unanimous consent requests to pass the five-year extension in the Senate. Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said Congress must have information on the number of Americans who have had their communications intercepted under the authority provided by the Act. Wyden also expressed concern about inadequate protections against warrantless "back door" searches of Americans under the Act.
A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed in August by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the National Security Agency has circumvented the legal protections for U.S. citizens in the FISA Amendments Act.