By Justin Sink - 08/21/13 06:08 PM EDT
President Obama stands by his assertion that “there is no spying on Americans” by the National Security Agency, the White House said Wednesday.
The comments from White House spokesman Josh Earnest follow a report that the NSA accessed about 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic through partnerships with some of the nation’s largest companies.
While domestic information was occasionally accessed, that amounted to “compliance issues” rather than systematic spying by the NSA.
He also said the president has taken “steps to address” privacy concerns and stressed that the programs were conducted by “national security professionals.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the National Security Agency's reach was significantly greater than previously thought.
It said a surveillance network maintained by companies partnered with the NSA retained the content of emails and phone calls sent between U.S. citizens, even though the NSA’s Internet surveillance is intended to be restricted to contacts with foreign targets.
The surveillance appears to be broader than the PRISM program initially revealed in a series of leaks by former defense contractor Edward Snowden earlier this summer. Under PRISM, the NSA acquired records from specific Internet companies, like Google and Facebook.
News about the NSA has hurt Obama politically, lowering his approval ratings, particularly with younger voters.
Polling taken by The Economist and YouGov finds a 14-point swing in Obama’s approval and disapproval rating among voters aged 18-29 in surveys taken immediately before the NSA revelations and last week. Overall, the swing in Obama’s approval rating moves just four points.
The White House has been unable to put the NSA story to bed with new revelations dribbling out at least once a week since Snowden initially leaked information about the programs to two newspapers in June.
The government has now said it is unsure just how much information Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum by Russia, has with him.
In a statement to Fox News, the NSA defended the program and insisted safeguards were in place to prevent the active monitoring of domestic Internet communications.
It said the NSA’s mission was centered on defeating foreign adversaries who aim to harm the nation. “We defend the United States from such threats while fiercely working to protect the privacy rights of U.S. persons. It's not either/or. It's both,” the statement said.