Vladimir Putin tells Edward Snowden: Russia doesn't carry out NSA-style mass surveillance

President Vladimir Putin has told the National Security Agency whistleblower, Edward Snowden, that Russia is not carrying out mass surveillance programmes of the kind Snowden exposed in the US.

Snowden made a video-link appearance during Putin's marathon televised question and answer session to ask the president about Russia's attitude to mass surveillance.

Snowden asked: "Does Russia intercept or store or analyse the communication of millions of individuals?" He went on to ask whether increasing the effectiveness of internal security systems could ever justify such actions.

To applause from the studio audience, Putin responded: "Mr Snowden you are a former agent, a spy, I used to work for a intelligence service, we are going to talk the same language."

He said Russia did not have a comparable programme, stating: "Our agents are controlled by law. You have to get court permission to put an individual under surveillance. We don't have mass permission, and our law makes it impossible for that kind of mass permission to exist."

He said he was aware that "criminals and terrorists" relied on this kind of interception, and that their actions demanded a response from the security services. "We have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of a terrorist nature, we do have some efforts like that. We don't have a mass control. I hope we don't do that," he said.

"We don't have as much money as they do in the US," he added.

Putin's claims will be treated with a high degree of scepticism by western intelligence officials. With China, they regard Russia as the biggest culprits in terms of cyber espionage and cyber theft – which is undertaken by both countries on an industrial scale.

The Guardian has reported how Russia is upgrading an electronic surveillance system known as Sorm, which is capable of capturing telephone communications, intercepting internet traffic and storing data on subscribers including actual recordings and locations.

While Russia may not have some of the technical capabilities that have been perfected by the National Security Agency and GCHQ, many of the most complicated pieces of malware that have been discovered on the internet over the last few years have had their origins in Russia – which have themselves been capable of sucking up vast amounts of information, undetected, for years.

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