Congress votes to extend US surveillance law

The US House of Representatives has voted to extend by another six years the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance programme – allowing spying on both Americans and foreigners to continue. 

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act permits the US – without a warrant or evidence of wrongdoing – to collect phone records, emails and electronic communications from Facebook, Google, Verizon and other US tech companies. The powers apply even when foreigners are communicating with Americans.

The law can be used “as a loophole that provides for the surveillance of American citizens in the course of spying operations on foreign targets”, according to TechCrunch.

The legislation must still pass the Senate, but the House was seen as the pivotal test, The New York Times says.

The US intelligence community considers the law its “key national security surveillance tool” and essential in the war on terrorism, Deutsche Welle reports, but opponents complain that it allows intelligence agencies to “scour massive amounts of data from US citizens”.

President Donald Trump created turmoil before the vote when he tweeted his scepticism about surveillance, just hours after the White House issued a statement urging Congress to block constraints on the NSA programme, CBC reports.

Whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s 2013 disclosures ushered in a period of intense interest in surveillance in the US, which peaked in 2015 when Congress voted to replace a programme that allowed the NSA to collect logs of Americans’ domestic phone calls in secret.

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