White House: Obama will defend Internet spying to Europeans

The White House said Friday that President Obama will stress the importance of a secret NSA program that collects foreign Internet data to the nation's European allies during trips to Ireland and Germany next week.

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"We will want to hear questions and have an exchange about these programs and other counterterrorism efforts," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday.

Rhodes said Obama would explain to European leaders "the importance of these programs in terms of our counterterrorism programs" and that ending the surveillance would "remove a tool that is essential to our shared security."  

Earlier this week, the European Union sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter expressing "serious concern" with the PRISM program, which culls emails, pictures and data from companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo.

"Trust that the rule of law will be respected is also essential to the stability and growth of the digital economy, including transatlantic business,” European Union Commissioner Viviane Reding wrote. “It is of paramount importance for individuals and companies alike.”

The White House spokesman said Obama would also emphasize that the program was narrowly targeted to counterterrorism.

"This is not a program that is intended to target individuals [and] what they're doing online, other than to seek to uncover terrorist plots," Rhodes said.

Political leaders in Germany, where Obama will travel following the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland next week, have expressed particular outrage at the program. A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the leader plans to raise the question with the president during their time together.

Rhodes said the White House understood "the significant German interest in privacy and civil liberties," and that it was possible Obama would address the program publicly while visiting Berlin.

The president has defended the program as a "modest encroachment" that strikes the correct balance between national security and privacy concerns.