The US House voted Wednesday against blocking
the National Security Agency from using the PATRIOT Act to collect
records of people not under investigation.
The amendment proposed by Republican Justin Amash failed 217-205.
It was considered the first real test of political sentiment on the NSA programmes since fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing previously undisclosed details about surveillance programmes.
Amash's amendment sought to restrict what he said was NSA's "blanket authority" to collect records and internet and telephone meta-data under the PATRIOT Act, a far-reaching security law passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Backers said the legislation would not have stopped all collection of data but would have narrowed efforts to people who are the subject of a national security investigation.
"If there's no cause ... you should not be tracked by your own government," said Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat.
Representative Democrat Jared Polis said the measure would have helped mend relationships with other governments that found out the NSA programmes snooped on them.
The amendment was opposed by the White House as a "blunt approach" that was not part of "an informed, open, or deliberative process," and urged House members to reject it.
Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican, voted against the amendment, saying it would have taken the country back to September 10, 2001, when US security agencies failed to prevent the suicide hijackings that were carried out the next day against New York and Washington.
"Have 12 years gone by and our memories faded so badly that we forgot what happened on September 11?" Rogers asked.
With the NSA amendment defeated, 512-billion-dollar defence spending bill later passed the House by a 315-109 vote.
Before rejecting the amendment, the House overwhelmingly approved another amendment whose sponsor, Republican Representative Mike Pompeo, said it clarifies the boundaries of the NSA programme under the US constitution's civil rights protections. It clarifies that only meta-data can be collected - phone numbers, time and duration of calls - not names or content, and that the meta-data cannot be stored.
"These programmes that the NSA are conducting ... are wholly constitutional, and there is incredible oversight from all three branches of government," Pompeo said. "They have kept a lot of Americans safe for a long time."
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