Whistleblower Edward Snowden has accused Australia of using mass surveillance on its citizens and passing laws on the collection of metadata that do not protect society from any acts of terrorism.
Speaking at the Progress 2015 conference in Melbourne via satellite in Moscow, Snowden criticized Australia’s new metadata laws, which allow the government and intelligence agencies to keep a constant watch on citizens.
The Federal Government’s data retention laws were passed in March. They require telecommunications companies to retain their customers phone and computer metadata for two years.
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“What this means is they are watching everybody all the time. They’re collecting information and they’re just putting it in buckets that they can then search through not only locally, not only in Australia, but they can then share this with foreign intelligences services.
“They can trawl through this information in the same way. Whether or not you’re doing anything wrong you’re being watched.”
“Australia’s role in mass surveillance around the world is similar to the UK and the Tempora program,” he said.
Snowden, who has been living in Moscow since June 2013 after receiving political asylum, criticized the Australian government’s passage of a metadata program that is being used, he said, to “collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion.”
“This is dangerous,” he told the conference.
The former system administrator for the CIA said such invasive surveillance technologies had nothing in common with traditional liberal societies.
“This is not things that governments have ever traditionally been empowered to claim for themselves as authorities.
“And to have that change recently … is a radical departure from the operation of traditional liberal societies around the world.”
Snowden repeated his position that acts of terrorism in the US and elsewhere have not been thwarted by conducting mass surveillance on citizens.
“Nine times out of 10 when you see someone on the news who’s engaged in some sort of radical jihadist activity, these are people who had a long record,” he said.
“The reason these attacks happened is not because we didn’t have enough surveillance, it’s because we had too much.”
Aside from average citizens, he warned that journalists are also at risk of having their contacts exposed by the mass surveillance.
“Under these mandatory metadata laws you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are.”
He excoriated such a turn of events, saying the purpose of a free press in society is to “act as an adversary against the government on behalf of the public.”
Snowden’s comments came on the same day that a US federal appeals court ruled the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records was illegal. In a unanimous decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York called the bulk phone records collection “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
The ruling, which Snowden called “extraordinarily encouraging,” comes as Congress confronts a June 1 deadline to renew a section of the Patriot Act that allows the NSA’s bulk data surveillance.
Meanwhile, Snowden seems determined to reveal more information from the National Security Agency (NSA) files, hinting there was yet more information about Australia’s intelligence work that would be revealed at a later date.