Snowden Questions Putin on Spying; Answers Fail to Satisfy

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Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, is presently a fugitive in Russia, having fled the United States after releasing a number of sensitive documents to the media regarding American intelligence surveillance via phone lines and the Internet.

Following the privacy scandal, Snowden retained something of a public face, appearing on Ted Talks to discuss protection of the Internet to the eventual response appearance of NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett; Snowden also did a live Q&A session over the Internet. Now, he has appeared on TV in Russia during a question and answer segment for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He asked, “Does Russia intercept, store or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?”

The question is particularly pertinent following accusations during the Sochi Winter Olympics regarding Russian surveillance, with reminders to visitors and athletes from the U.S. government that they would be subject to Russian monitoring. Phone communications would be captured via Russia’s monitoring system, System of Operative-Investigative Measures, or SORM, and that SORM-3 would be collecting the information from all forms of communication for storage.

Putin responded to Snowden’s question last week by saying that Russia does not have a mass surveillance system, but that information gathered through technology is used in criminal cases in Russia. “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,” said Putin.

“First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law … you have to get a court permission to stalk a particular person,” he said, adding that the Russian government lacks the same funding as the United States. As such, “We don’t have these technical devices that they have in the States … We don’t have a mass system of such interception, and according with our law, it cannot exist. Of course we know that criminals and terrorist use technology … and of course special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of terrorist,” said Putin. “Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and regulated by the law.”

Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte — the main social networking site in Russia – released documents of his own the day before Putin’s session. The documents showed a security agency seeking the personal info for 39 groups, all of which are related to the Ukrainian protest, reports USA Today.

Discussion on how technology is being used for interference in Ukraine as well as to release propaganda materials is being highlighted, especially by the U.S., which has faced its own intelligence issues. The Obama administration is presently working to find diplomatic solutions to the Russian political and military involvement in the Crimean region of Ukraine.

Andrei Soldatov, a security analyst based in Moscow, tweeted his response to Putin’s claims, saying: “First, there is no parliamentary oversight of secret services. Second, the FSB (Russian State Security) is not required to show a warrant to anyone.” He also pointed out that Putin’s “reply doesn’t include not only SORM, but dozens of monitoring programs bought by secret services to spy on social networks.”

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