© Agence France-Presse/ Win McNamee
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to extend the government's power to warrantlessly wiretap Americans for another five years by reauthorizing the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Lawmakers in the House agreed from Washington, DC on Wednesday afternoon to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a polarizing legislation that has been challenged by privacy advocates and civil liberties organizations alike around the country. The extension was approved by a vote of 301 to 118.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was first signed into law in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, but amendments added two decades later under the George W Bush administration provide for the government to conduct widespread and blanketing snooping of emails and phone calls of Americans. The FISA Amendments added in 2008, specifically section 702, specify that the government can eavesdrop on emails and phone calls sent from US citizens to persons reasonably suspected to be located abroad without ever requiring intelligence officials to receive a court order.
If the US Senate echoes the House's extension of the act, the FAA will carry through for another five years until 2017, ensuring the federal intelligence community that they will be able to conduct surveillance on the correspondence of the country's own citizens well into the future. If no action is taken, the FAA is slated to expire at the end of 2012.
Earlier this year, a plea from two US senators to see how many times the FAA has been used was refused by the National Security Administration. Last month, San Francisco's Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit
against the US Justice Department for failing to adhere to Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to the program.