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In their highest-profile interaction to date, fugitive U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden phoned Russian president Vladimir Putin on live TV on Thursday. Snowden, who was granted asylum by the Russian government after he leaked information about the widespread monitoring of phone data by the U.S. government, quizzed Putin about Russia’s data-gathering tactics.

Putin, himself a former spy for the USSR’s KGB, whimsically responded to Snowden’s questions. The Russian president also took the opportunity to jab at the U.S., but failed to acknowledge Russian cyber-espionage and cybertheft activities that the U.S. and Western European countries view as among the world’s most advanced.

“Does Russia intercept, store or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?” Snowden asked. “And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance?”

Putin made light of his and Snowden’s past careers in his response.

“You are an ex-agent. I used to have ties to intelligence. So we will speak to each other in the language of professionals,” he answered. “On a massive scale, on an uncontrolled scale, we certainly do not allow this and I hope we will never allow it.”

Putin then argued that the intelligence activities Russia does engage in are geared toward combating terrorists and criminals who use the Web as a platform to carry out crimes.

“We have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of a terrorist nature, we do have some efforts like that,” he said. “We don’t have a mass control. I hope we don’t do that.”

“We don’t have as much money as they do in the U.S.,” he added.

Finally, Putin said Russian law regulates the Kremlin’s data mining. “Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and regulated by the law.”

Photo: Channel 4 via Flickr

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