Nightly News   |  December 27, 2013

Federal judge upholds NSA telephone data collection

A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that the NSA’s vast collection of telephone records is legal – a victory for the Obama administration. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> a federal judge in new york ruled today that the nsa's vast collection of telephone records is legal. that contrasts with a ruling two weeks ago from a judge in washington who said the nsa program likely violates the constitution. this latest decision is a legal victory for the obama administration with the judge saying the nsa's program is valuable and only a minimal intrusion. we get our report tonight from our justice correspondent pete williams .

>> reporter: today's ruling says the program is the government's counterpunch to the 9/11 attacks and al qaeda 's ability to conceal communications. only by scooping up all the records of telephone calls, the ruling says, can the nsa find and follow the stream of terrorist contacts in an ocean of data. the cost of missing such a thread can be horrific, says federal judge william pauley of new york. he says the effectiveness of collecting bulk telephone data cannot be disputed citing examples of disrupted plots. it's true he says that telephones are a bigger part of our lives than ever before, but in of those uses have nothing to do with making calls. he said lower courts aren't free to overrule the u.s. supreme court 's finding of 34 years ago that people have no expectation of privacy in the call records their phone companies keep. besides, the judge says, people voluntarily surrender personal and seemingly private information to corporations who exploit the data for profit, something far more intrusive than the government's phone record collection . now we have a ruling by a judge appointed by president clinton upholding the nsa program. two weeks ago, a judge appointed by president george w. bush said it was illegal. now the appeals courts and perhaps ultimately the supreme court will decide who is right. pete williams , nbc news, washington.