Funds were nearly cut Wednesday for domestic surveillance of U.S. residents in a narrow vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The vote was 217-205, with just a half-dozen of the 435 members making the difference.
Surveillance is conducted by the National Security Agency, which keeps records of telephone calls and Internet activities and serves general warrants to obtain Facebook and Google records.
The domestic surveillance became widely known after former employee Edward Snowden leaked NSA documents to the press.
The revelations caused alarm that the information might be secretly used to harass, intimidate or persecute the innocent.
Critics say the surveillance violates the protection in the U.S. Constitution against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In the House, Nebraska Reps. Adrian Smith, Jeff Fortenberry and Lee Terry voted Wednesday to continue to fund NSA surveillance.
The conservative group, Americans for Limited Government, said the NSA is violating both the Constitution and the Patriot Act.
“The original intent of Section 215 of the Patriot Act never authorized blanket, suspicion-less surveillance of every single American,” ALG said.
"The fact is, the government's interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act does something that has never been done before — which is assert that because you might commit a crime or engage in terrorism, you can be subjected to a search,” ALG said.
“Every case of searches of third-party vendors' phone and bank records were all relevant to investigations into specific persons regarding specific crimes. (But) these are just general warrants searching everything and everyone,” ALG said.
After Snowden revealed the government is collecting metadata on phone calls, NSA officials assured members of Congress that the program is performed under “rigorous oversight,” the International Business Times reported Thursday.
However, oversight procedures are conducted almost entirely within the NSA so it is unclear whether there is an electronic trail outside of the NSA’s reports that would detail how the NSA is using the database, according to the Business Times report.
Former NSA employee J. Kirk Wiebe, who left the agency after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, told a congressional committee that any oversight is meaningless unless an outside agency has access to observe how the NSA is using the sensitive information it is collecting on Americans.
Wiebe was among a few NSA employees who tried to draw attention to wasteful programs at the NSA after 9/11, the Business Times reported.
Another hearing is set Wednesday in the House of Representatives by a special, ad hoc committee led by Democrat Alan Grayson of Florida.
For facts about the NSA surveillance program, click HERE.