Did Putin or Obama Say ‘We Don’t Have a Domestic Spying Program’?

The Russian president uses similar logic and words that the American president does when justifying mass surveillance.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

“We don’t have a domestic spying program.”

Who said it, Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama?

Obama did, of course, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was Putin. On Thursday, Putin told his guest Edward Snowden that Russia does not spy on all its citizens—only individuals after a court order.

Putin: “Russia uses surveillance techniques for spying on individuals only with the sanction of a court order. This is our law, and therefore there is no mass surveillance in our country.”

Obama: “We put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there’s federal court oversight as well as congressional oversight, that there is no spying on Americans. … We don’t have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.”

Both men have tried to redefine mass surveillance in the narrowest way possible. Both want you to believe that the National Security Agency or Federal Security Service’s bulk collection of data—data that can reveal a person’s location, history, and even thoughts—is not mass surveillance just because a human being is not looking at it.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper used the same defense last year when Senator Ron Wyden asked him: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

“No, sir… not wittingly,” Clapper said, later adding: “What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ emails. I stand by that.”

When the president of the United States and his spymaster sound like Putin, it might be time to rethink things.