Edward Snowden, the former US spy agency contractor who leaked details of mass surveillance, made a ‘surprise’ appearance on Vladimir Putin's annual televised live phone in.
Former National Security Contractor Snowden appeared via a video on The Direct Line with Putin today, asking the Russian president if his country also tapped the communications of millions.
The fugitive whistleblower, who is currently seeking asylum in Russia, asked Mr Putin: "Does Russia intercept, store or analyse, 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?"
The Russian leader said he struggled to understand the American's English before joking about both of their ties to intelligence.
A seemingly relaxed Mr Putin caused laughter among the studio audience when he said: "You are an ex-agent. I used to have ties to intelligence. So we will speak to each other in the language of professionals."
Responding to the question, Mr Putin said Russia regulates communications as part of criminal investigations, but "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 US."
He said the Russian authorities need consent from a court to conduct such surveillance on a specific individual "and for this reason there is no (surveillance) of a mass character here and cannot be in accordance with the law".
Mr Snowden's lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said he appeared on the show by sending in the question after hearing about the president's annual Q&A session - just like everyone else in Russia.
"Edward is good with these technologies. He learned (of the programme) and taped a video," Kucherena told state-run RIA news agency. "He know how to go on the Internet in a secure way, and that is how he sent in his question."
Russia welcomed Mr Snowden's father for a visit in October and state-run television hosted a group of former US national security officials who handed him an award for "integrity in intelligence".
Additional reporting by agencies