WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday he will not sign a government surveillance bill unless it provides the tools and flexibility intelligence professions need to protect the America against terrorism.
President Bush says a new foreign surveillance bill must give flexibility to intelligence professions.
The bill, the president said, must "keep the intelligence gap firmly closed and ensure that protections intended for the American people are not extended to terrorists overseas who are plotting to harm us."
Retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with electronic surveillance, must also be part of the bill, Bush said.
He said the companies "are facing multibillion-dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend our nation following the 9/11 attacks."
Bush wants to strengthen the Protect America Act, a temporary measure passed in August and set to expire in February. Democrats want to roll back some of the powers granted in that bill. Watch the president call the bill a vital tool in the fight against terrorism »
House Democratic leaders are proposing a new version of the government's eavesdropping program with more court oversight than provided in the Protect America Act. The president said that "would take us backward."
The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act governs when the government must seek court permission to eavesdrop. The law generally prohibited surveillance inside the United States unless it was approved by a court.
The act passed in August allowed the government to eavesdrop without a court order even when the communications came through U.S. communications companies. Civil liberties advocates criticized that bill, saying it gave too much power to the government to eavesdrop on Americans without court permission.
Bush said his administration needs the tools authorized by the bill to fight terrorists.
"The Protect America Act is a vital tool in stopping the terrorists and it would be a grave mistake for Congress to weaken this tool," he argued. E-mail to a friend