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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.

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Barack Obama, surrounded by advisors as he talks to the media at the Swedish government office Rosenbad in Stockholm on Wednesday.

Jonas Ekstomer/AP

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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."

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."

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