WASHINGTON - Bowing to 's demands, the Senate approved and sent the White House a bill Wednesday to overhaul bitterly disputed rules on secret government eavesdropping and shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits complaining they helped the U.S. spy on Americans.
The relatively one-sided vote, 69-28, came only after a lengthy and heated debate that pitted privacy andagainst the desire to prevent terrorist attacks. It ended almost a year of wrangling over surveillance rules and the president's warrantless wiretapping program that was initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The House passed the same bill last month, and Bush said he would sign it soon.
Opponents assailed the eavesdropping program, asserting that it imperiled citizens' rights of privacy from government intrusion. But Bush said the legislation protects those rights as well as Americans' security.
"This bill will help our intelligence professionals learn who the terrorists are talking to, what they're saying and what they're planning," he said in a brief White House appearance after the Senate vote.
The bill is very much a political compromise, brought about by a deadline: Wiretapping orders authorized last year will begin to expire in August. Without a new bill, the government would go back to old FISA rules, requiring multiple new orders and potential delays to continue those intercepts. That is something most of Congress did not want to see happen, particularly in an election year.