US president presses for surveillance bill

S President Bush said that telecommunications companies should be thanked, not sued, for helping the government conduct warrantless wiretapping in the US after the September 11 attacks, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report said the Senate version of a law to make it easier for the government to conduct domestic eavesdropping on suspected terrorists' phone calls and e-mails provides retroactive legal protection for telecommunications companies that wiretapped without court permission. The House version does not, the report said.

The Associated Press report quoted Bush as saying that he will veto any bill without it, and he has kept up a drumbeat of events and remarks in recent weeks to press his point.

Telecom companies face around 40 lawsuits for their alleged role in wiretapping their American customers, the report said.

'Should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that may have helped save American lives be thanked for performing a patriotic service‾' Bush said after meeting at the White House with the National Association of Attorneys General.

Bush said there are enough votes in the House to pass the Senate version, but that 'a minority in the House has been holding the bill up.'

The president pointed to what he said was an encouraging development: remarks from the House Intelligence Committee chairman over the weekend that he expects a compromise soon on providing legal protections to telecom companies.