Russia president Vladimir Putin gave a false answer about his surveillance when questioned last week, according to security expert James Andrew Lewis.
Putin answered the following question from rogue National Security Analyst agent Edward Snowden: “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?”
He responded by saying, “Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law … 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.”
Despite Putin’s claim, however, it’s clear that Russia has a huge surveillance system.
“His answer was technically false, right?” Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider. “He does engage in mass surveillance. However, Putin was also partially telling the truth in that it does conform to the legal system because the legal system was built to accommodate it.”
Lewis summarized Russia’s large and opaque surveillance system at CSIS:
Three programs, SORM-1, SORM-2, and SORM-3, provide the foundation of Russian mass communications surveillance. Russian law gives Russia’s security service, the FSB, the authority to use SORM (“System for Operative Investigative Activities”) to collect, analyse and store all data that transmitted or received on Russian networks, including calls, email, website visits and credit card transactions. SORM has been in use since 1990 and collects both metadata and content. SORM-1 collects mobile and landline telephone calls. SORM-2 collects internet traffic. SORM-3 collects from all media (including Wi-Fi and social networks) and stores data for three years. Russian law requires all internet service providers to install an FSB monitoring device (called “Punkt Upravlenia”) on their networks that allows the direct collection of traffic without the knowledge or cooperation of the service provider. The providers must pay for the device and the cost of installation.
Collection requires a court order, but these are secret and not shown to the service provider. According to the data published by Russia’s Supreme Court, almost 540,000 intercepts of phone and internet traffic were authorised in 2012. While the FSB is the principle agency responsible for communications surveillance, seven other Russian security agencies can have access to SORM data on demand. SORM is routinely used against political opponents and human rights activists to monitor them and to collect information to use against them in “dirty tricks” campaigns. Russian courts have upheld the FSB’s authority to surveil political opponents even if they have committed no crime. Russia used SORM during the Olympics to monitor athletes, coaches, journalists, spectators, and the Olympic Committee, publicly explaining this was necessary to protect against terrorism. The system was an improved version of SORM that can combine video surveillance with communications intercepts.
SORM is buttressed by regulations that limit the use of encryption, and restrictive internet laws that allow the Government to shut down websites it finds objectionable. Russia has a national filtering system that can block foreign sites and it has used the threat of blockage to coerce western companies into removing objectionable postings. Russian agencies such as “Roskomnadzor” (Agency for the Supervision of Information Technology, Communications, and Mass Media) provide the name and address of websites to be blocked to internet service providers, who must take action within 24 hours. Russia monitors foreign communications using techniques used by NSA and China. Wireless and landline communications are monitored in major capitals: American officials believe that Russia chose to build an Embassy complex on a hill in Washington D.C., for example, to improve interception of mobile communications.
Seeing as this information is public, one might ask why Putin bothered to claim otherwise on TV.
Lewis believes it was a deliberate effort to “put Snowden back in front,” either with or without Snowden’s consent, to draw international attention away from Ukraine.
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