House votes to extend Patriot Act surveillance powers

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US Capitol building, in a file photo
Image caption,
Critics say the provisions give the government too much power to invade Americans' privacy

The US House of Representatives has agreed to extend some of surveillance powers granted by the 2001 Patriot Act after the 9/11 attacks.

In a 275-144 vote, the chamber voted to extend until December provisions on wiretaps, access to business records and surveillance of terror suspects.

The White House backed the bill, but would have favoured a longer extension.

The bill failed a vote last week, when it was brought to the floor under rules requiring a two-thirds majority.

The matter now goes to the Senate for its consideration. The provisions are set to expire on 28 February.

'Legitimate fear'

The Patriot Act was shepherded through Congress by President George W Bush shortly after the terror attacks of 11 September, 2001.

Mr Bush and other supporters argued that the legal safeguards traditionally granted to criminal suspects left the US ill-protected against further attacks.

Critics say the broad powers the act grants US law enforcement agencies violate Americans' privacy.

"I believe the American people have a legitimate fear of out-of-control government," said Republican Dana Rohrabacher, one of 27 from his party to vote against the bill on Monday.

"And yes, they have a legitimate fear of out-of-control prosecutors and out-of-control spy networks."

The provisions covered under the bill give the US government the authority for "roving surveillance" of suspects who might be able to thwart investigative methods that ordinarily require a judge's warrant.

They also give federal investigators access to business records with a warrant from a secret national security court and grant federal law enforcement greater power to watch foreign so-called "lone wolf" terror suspects.