Obama to Europe: US not 'snooping' on phone calls, emails

President Obama on Wednesday sought to reassure Europeans that the United States is not "snooping" into their phone calls and emails.

He defended the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, insisting they are focused only on counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and cybersecurity.


"I can give assurances to the public in Europe and around the world that we're not going around snooping at people's emails or listening to their phone calls," Obama told reporters at a press conference in Stockholm. "What we try to do is target very specific areas of concern."

The president conceded that the U.S. "has enormous capabilities when it comes to intelligence" but said the programs were under review to prevent "situations where we're gathering info just because we can."

"With changes in technology, with the growth in our capabilities, if our attitude is because we can do it, we should go ahead and do it, we may not be addressing some of the legitimate concerns and dangers that exist," Obama said.

The president also reiterated that he had confidence that domestically, the U.S. did "not surveil the American people or people within the United States." He said in instances when "procedures, because these are human endeavors, have not worked as they should … we've tightened them up."

But he also stressed that allies who had objected to the U.S. programs had benefited from their findings — or might use similar techniques.

"Some of the folks who have been the most offended publicly, we know use the same methods as us," Obama said.

The president was visiting Stockholm after canceling a previously planned summit in Moscow ahead of the G-20 summit. The scheduled bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin were canceled after the Kremlin announced it would grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former Defense contractor who leaked information about the NSA programs.