Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently residing under asylum in Russia after fleeing the United States, made a surprising appearance Thursday at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual televised call-in with the nation.
Snowden asked Putin if Russia collects information on or intercepts the communications of ordinary citizens in a similar manner as the United States. In doing so, he provided a platform for Putin to, expectedly, say Russia has no program of “massive, uncontrolled” surveillance.
It was seen as a clear, staged PR stunt, and New York Times Moscow-based reporter David Herszenhorn called it a “stunning in your face move” by the Kremlin.
“Does Russia store, intercept, or analyse, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify a place in societies rather than subjects under surveillance?” Snowden asked Putin.
Putin said he would answer by talking as one professional spy to another, noting his past as a KGB agent and Snowden’s past in the NSA, before he leaked thousands of documents exposing U.S. surveillance programs.
“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” Putin said, according to a translation by Russia Today. “… You have to get a court permission to stalk a particular person. We don’t have a mass system of such interception. And according to our law, it cannot exist.
“Of course, we know that criminals and terrorists use technology for their criminal acts, and special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes. Of course, we do some efforts like that. But we do not have a mass scale, uncontrollable effort like that. I hope we won’t do that.”
Putin added that Russia doesn’t have the monetary or technical capabilities of U.S. programs.
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