NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden appeared Thursday on Russian state television via video link, where he posed a question to Vladimir Putin's during the president's annual question-and-answer program: Is the Russian government spying on millions of people?
Putin side-stepped the question.
The full exchange—transcribed by Slate—is as follows:
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SNOWDEN: I’d like to ask about mass surveillance of online communications and the bulk collection of private records by intelligence and law enforcement services. Recently in the United States two independent White House investigations as well as a federal court all concluded that these programs are ineffective in stopping terrorism. They also found that they unreasonably intrude into the private lives of ordinary citizens—individuals who have never been suspected of any wrongdoing or criminal activity. And that these kinds of programs are not the least intrusive means available to such agencies for these investigative purposes. Now, I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia’s own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance, so I’d like to ask you: does Russia intercept, store, or analyze, 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 placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance? Thank you.
PUTIN: Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy. I used to be working for an intelligence service. We are going to talk one professional language. First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law—so, how special forces can use this kind of special equipment as they intercept phone calls or follow someone online. And 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 of course special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of terrorist nature. And of course we do some efforts like that, but we do not have a mass scale uncontrollable efforts like that. I hope we won’t do that, and we don’t have as much money as they have in the States and we don’t have these technical devices that they have in the States. Our special services, thanks god, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and are regulated by the law.