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Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
President George W. Bush speaks before the signing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Rose Garden at the White House July 10, 2008 in Washington.
updated 7/10/2008 4:45:25 PM ET 2008-07-10T20:45:25

President George W. Bush signed a bill Thursday that overhauls rules about government eavesdropping and grants immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the United States spy on Americans in suspected terrorist cases.

He called it "landmark legislation that is vital to the security of our people."

Bush signed the measure in a Rose Garden ceremony a day after the Senate sent him the legislation after nearly a year of debate in the Democratic-led Congress over surveillance rules and the president's warrantless wiretapping program initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It was a battle that pitted privacy and civil liberties concerns against the desire to prevent terror attacks and Democrats' fears of being portrayed as weak when it comes to protecting the country.

Video: Passing of eavesdropping bill a victory for Bush Its passage was a major victory for Bush, an unpopular pqresident with less than 200 days left in office who nevertheless has been able to prevail over Congress on most issues of national security and intelligence disputes.

Bush said the Sept. 11 attack "changed our country forever" and taught the intelligence community that it must know who America's enemies are talking to and what they are saying.

"In the aftermath of 9/11," Bush said, "few would have imagined that we would be standing here seven years later without another attack on American soil. The fact that the terrorists have failed to strike our shores again does not mean that our enemies have given up."

Even before Bush signed the legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would challenge the new law in court.

The president said the bill gives the government anti-terror tools it needs without compromising Americans' civil liberties.

Bush was joined at the ceremony by Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and more than a dozen members of Congress.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Bush signs wiretapping bill

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