(CN) - The House Thursday narrowly approved a long-term extension of controversial online spying methods hours after President Donald Trump sparked confusion with successive tweets that first condemned, then supported the measure.
The program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, allows U.S. spy agencies to collect information on foreign targets outside the United States. Americans' communications are inadvertently swept up in the process and privacy advocates and some lawyers want to require the FBI to get a warrant if it wants to view information on Americans that is in the database to build domestic crime cases.
The FBI and intelligence agencies say being able to query the database is essential to keeping America safe.
Lawmakers in the House weighed whether the FBI should have to get a warrant to either query information on Americans in the database or seek a warrant only if the FBI wants to view the actual contents of the material and use it for investigating and prosecuting domestic crimes.
On Wednesday, the White House issued a statement opposing changes to the program.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted: "This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?"
Minutes later, he backed the program, tweeting: “With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get Smart!”
Prior to the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to pull a bill, arguing Trump's tweets effectively muddied the debate over the measure.
But Ryan pressed ahead, wrapping up the debate on the reauthorization bill with a stern warning to lawmakers that without its passage, the U.S. would be “flying blind on protecting its country from terrorism.”
Recounting his time in the House before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Ryan said before FISA was put into effect, the U.S. intelligence community was trapped behind a “firewall.”
“I’ll give you two declassified examples of what this program has done: in March 2016, it gave us the intel we needed to go after and kill ISIS finance minister, [Abu Saleh,] the number two man in line to become the next leader of ISIS,” Ryan said. “This program helped us topple him.”
He also credited the law with enabling intelligence officials to foil plots to bomb the New York City subway system and the New York Stock Exchange.
The bill passed 256-164.
The measure now heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass. The White House has said Trump will sign the bill.
The House also voted, 233-183, to defeat an amendment to the bill, the USA Rights Act. The amendment, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., called for an end to backdoor searches on Americans, required feds to obtain a warrant before conducting an investigation on a target and also barred so-called “about” surveillance.
“About” surveillance gives authorities the power to look into an individual who might simply be talking about a target. The practice was halted in April after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court dubbed the method an overreach into privacy.