How much is the US snooping on Europeans?
In a hastily planned visit to Sweden, Obama tried to allay anger over the NSA's international surveillance programs.
President Barack Obama sought Wednesday to reassure Europeans outraged over U.S. surveillance programs that his government isn't sifting through their emails or eavesdropping on their telephone calls. He acknowledged that the programs haven't always worked as intended, saying "we had to tighten them up."Skip to next paragraph
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Obama said once-secret U.S. surveillance programs that became public knowledge after a government contractor leaked details about them are meant to improve America's understanding of what is happening around the world. He sought to allay the concerns of Europeans upset by the thought their personal communications may have been swept up in the U.S. government's massive data collection operations.
"I can give assurances to the publics in Europe and around the world that we're not going around snooping at people's emails or listening to their phone calls," Obama said at a news conference with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on his first visit as president to Sweden. "What we try to do is to target very specifically areas of concern."
Leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about U.S. surveillance programs sparked outrage overseas, particularly among Europeans who place a premium on personal privacy and civil liberties and recall life under governments that routinely spied on them. The NSA program was the first question he received from the Swedish press.
Obama said additional changes to the programs may be required because of advances in technology. He said his national security team along with an independent board is reviewing everything to strike the right balance between the government's surveillance needs and civil liberties.
"There may be situations in which we're gathering information just because we can that doesn't help us with our national security, but does raise questions in terms of whether we're tipping over into being too intrusive with respect to the ... the interactions of other governments," Obama said. "We are consulting with the (European Union) in this process; we are consulting with other countries in this process and finding out from them what are their areas of specific concern and trying to align what we do in a way that, I think, alleviates some of the public concerns that people may have."
The joint appearance with Reinfeldt was one of several events packed into Obama's whirlwind, 24-hour visit to the Swedish capital to show a softer side of American diplomacy even as the world's gaze remains fixed anxiously on Syria.
He intends to focus in the Nordic nation on climate change, trade and technology, issues on which there is broad consensus with European allies. The topics are a marked departure from the thornier national security and economic matters he's facing back home.