Powers to gather information on the books people buy in US bookshops and rent from libraries should be repealed, the House of Representatives has said.
Experts use reading histories to build up a profile of a person
The House voted by 238-187 to pass an amendment to the USA Patriot Act, despite threats from the White House to veto changes to the anti-terror law.
Backers of the amendment said elements of the act were unconstitutional.
The US Senate, which needs to approve any bill for it to become law, has not yet voted on the measure.
"We can fight terrorism without undermining basic constitutional rights," said Bernie Sanders, an independent representative from the north-eastern state of Vermont, who proposed the measure.
"Parents want to know that just because their kid is researching the life of Osama bin Laden, or researching terrorism, that that fact should not place the student on a government list," he added.
The White House has strongly opposed any changes to the Patriot Act, which was passed by a strong majority in both the House and the Senate in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.
Millions of dollars have been invested in counter-terrorism
Under current legislation US investigators have the right to access library records and details of which books people buy in bookshops.
There is no requirement to prove that those under observation are suspected of committing or planning any crime or act of terror.
The Patriot Act has become a key issue for civil libertarians in the US, who allege that the provisions of the act undermine the US constitution and restrict basic freedoms.
"If the government suspects someone is looking up how to make atom bombs, go to a court and get a search warrant," New York Democrat Jerold Nadler said.
Mr Sanders' amendment was passed with the help of 38 Republican members, who voted for the measure alongside Democrats.
A similar measure that also proposed outlawing the right to monitor internet use was defeated in the House last year.
"The passage of this amendment helps rein in an administration intent on chipping away at the very civil liberties that define us as a nation," he said.
But Assistant Attorney General William Moschella lambasted the amendment in a letter to Congress.
"[Bookshops and libraries] should not be carved out as safe havens for terrorists and spies, who have, in fact, used public libraries to do research and communicate with their co-conspirators," he wrote.