If you had the chance to ask Putin any question you wanted, would you take advantage of the opportunity? Would you go as far to question him about net surveillance? Well, someone did.

Once a year Vladimir Putin hosts a television call-in show called the “Straight Line” in which viewers call in and he answers their questions. This year it took place on April 17, 2014. Some people view this show as a publicity stunt for Putin, while others see it as a rare opportunity to gain insight into his mind. I agree with the latter. Considering recent events involving Russia and the Ukraine, having the rare opportunity to ask the unpredictable Putin any question is one that should be taken advantage of.

What has become of great debate since this year’s show is Edward Snowden’s question to Putin regarding government surveillance. He asked, “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?” snowden In other words he was flat out asking Putin if he spied on Russian citizens. According to an article in theguardian.com, Snowden asked Putin this question to “get his answer on the record” (Snowden, 2014). Snowden took advantage of television as a main media source, and realized that however Putin answered, it would be dissected and – most likely – criticized in the social world. Especially with the extensive use of social media to express opinions, Snowden hoped his question would foster a wider discussion on the issue. Even if Putin were to say such surveillance is legal, Snowden challenges that it can never be morally justified (Snowden, 2014).

Image courtesy of Flickr user DonkeyHotey

Putin, according to Snowden, “denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter” (Snowden, 2014). putinAdditionally, Snowden believed there were inconsistencies in Putin’s denial (Snowden, 2014). Clearly, Snowden was right in that sense since Putin failed to mention how Russia has one of the most sophisticated surveillance systems in the world, and that this system “practically gives the Federal Security Service (FSB) direct access to Internet servers and telecommunications providers, allowing the government to eavesdrop on all online and phone communications that go through their networks” (Bicchierai, 2014). In contrast, some viewers argue that Putin’s response was “the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader” (Snowden, 2014).

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jurg Vollmer

Whatever the viewpoint, Snowden has gotten people talking. He has encouraged people to take an individual stance on Putin’s response. In support, Snowden defends his question by saying, “I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further” (Snowden, 2014). I believe such steps needs to be taken in any country order to prevent threats to individual lives. Just as Evgeny Morozov recognizes how “the decentralized nature of conversation online makes it easy to manipulate the public” (Morozov, 2010), such manipulation should be stopped in any and all ways. Ultimately, surveillance practices anywhere should be questioned to keep innocent people safe, and to maintain their privacy. I am curious to see moving forward if Snowden motivates Russian citizens to question their government and demand the privacy they deserve.

To see some of the other questions asked during the “Straight Line”, follow this link: http://mashable.com/2014/04/18/snowden-putin-questions/

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Frederic Bisson


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