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Mass spying on citizens in Russia impossible unlike in US — Putin

April 17, 17:50 UTC+3 MOSCOW
A question whether Russian intelligence services are spying against their citizens was asked by US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden
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©  EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

MOSCOW, April 17. /ITAR-TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that mass spying by intelligence services on citizens, just like it was reported in the United States, was impossible in Russia.

A question whether Russian intelligence services are spying on their citizens was asked by US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden during Putin’s annual Q&A session.

Although Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, asked his question in English, the Russian president understood it without translation. However, he said that “American English undoubtedly differs from British English”.

“We have no spying of mass and non-selective type, and there cannot be any, according to the legislation,” Putin said.

Answering Snowden’s question, Putin proposed the US whistleblower to switch to professional language saying “you are a former intelligence agent, and I also used to be involved in intelligence”.

Putin said that the use of special equipment, which includes instruments for taping phone calls and for personal internet data surveillance, is strictly controlled by laws. A court sanction is required in each case concerning a particular person.

However, the president said that Russian intelligence services eavesdrop on certain suspects in the interests of the country’s security.

“We proceed from the fact that present-day means of communications are used by criminals, including by terrorists, for their criminal activities,” Putin said. “And special services should definitely use modern means and equipment in this sphere to react and fight against crimes.”

“However, we cannot permit such mass and uncontrolled scale [of surveillance] and I hope we never will,” he said. “We have not got such technical and financial means as the United States have. But the most important is that our special services, thank God, are under tight control of the government and society, and their activities are regulated by law.”

The United States accuses Snowden, 30, of leaking information on the NSA’s secret surveillance programs to media. Despite US extradition requests, he was granted a one-year temporary asylum in Russia in August 2013 after spending more than a month in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow. He has reportedly found a website maintenance job and resides at an undisclosed location in Russia.

The US authorities say Snowden violated two clauses of a 1917 law on espionage by divulging some secret data related to national defense and by deliberately transferring US intelligence data to individuals not authorized to obtain such data. Snowden is also charged with stealing US government property. Should he turn up on American soil one day, he faces ten years in prison on each charge.

The former NSA contractor said US President Barack Obama had the power to stop what he called illegal activities of US special services.

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