NSA leaker Edward Snowden is currently living under asylum in Russia, so it makes sense that he would want to know about the country's own surveillance practices. He managed to take his inquiry straight to the top and pose the question to none other than President Vladimir Putin during a live, state-run television broadcast. "I've seen little public discussion of Russia's own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance," he said. "So I'd like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?" The show's host claimed that Snowden "revolutionized the world by leaking the information about American secret services" before he appeared via video link.
"Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy. I used to work for the intelligence service. We are going to talk one professional language," Putin began (according to a translator). "Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law, so our special forces can use this special equipment as they intercept phone calls or follow someone online, but you have to get a court's permission to stalk a particular person," the Russian leader said. "We don't have a mass system of such interception, and according to our law it cannot exist." But — just like President Obama and other US officials — Putin leaves himself plenty of wiggle room on the issue.
"Of course we know that criminals and terrorists use technology for their criminal acts and of course our special services have to use technical means to respond to their crime," he said. "Of course we do some efforts like that, but we do not have mass-scale, uncontrollable efforts like that." Putin claimed Russia doesn't "have as much money as they do in the States, and we don't have the technical devices they have in the states."
Russia's surveillance tactics are strictly regulated by the country's laws, he concluded. That's the same sort of calming statement that US citizens have repeatedly heard, even as troubling new details about mass data collection by the NSA continue to leak out. The exchange between Snowden and Putin is likely to incense US lawmakers, especially in light of the ongoing Ukraine crisis.