The White House has said that it would not be "appropriate" for the US government to destroy leaked government secrets obtained by media organisations in the way ordered by the British government.

"It's very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate here," said White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday.

Earnest's statement was the first made by the Obama administration after Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger disclosed that the British government insisted that the Guardian surrender or destroy computers containing classified information provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.