The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a short-term extension of the Patriot Act on Tuesday.
The House voted 277 to 148 in favor of the bill - but they needed seven more votes to reach a two-thirds majority to pass it.
Some new Republican members were concerned that the nation's post 9-11 anti-terror law promotes big government.
The law allows federal investigators greater access to suspects' personal materials, and it enables the government to conduct roving wiretaps of terrorist suspects.
Also included was Section 215, the so-called library records provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to "any tangible thing" relevant to a terrorism investigation.
The third provision deals with the "lone-wolf" provision of a 2004 anti-terror law that permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. people not known to be affiliated with a specific terrorist organization.
The defeat means that Republicans may have to bring the bill back to the floor under regular procedures that only require a majority for passage but allow for amendments. The three provisions will expire on Feb. 28 if the House and Senate can't agree on how to proceed.
The White House said in a statement it did not object to the House bill but "would strongly prefer" extending the provisions to the end of 2013, saying that "provides the necessary certainty and predictability that our nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies require."