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Snowden Rejects Abbott Privacy Laws

12 May 2015 at 10:02 am
Lina Caneva
The world’s most famous whistleblower has warned that the Abbott Government’s data retention laws are enabling it to spy on civilians and encroaching on “dangerous” territory.

Lina Caneva | 12 May 2015 at 10:02 am


Snowden Rejects Abbott Privacy Laws
12 May 2015 at 10:02 am

The world’s most famous whistleblower has warned that the Abbott Government’s data retention laws are enabling it to spy on civilians and encroaching on “dangerous” territory.

Speaking directly to an Australian audience for the first time at Progress 2015 last week, the former CIA administrator and National Security Agency contractor told a packed Melbourne Town Hall that Australians needed to question authority more.

“Saying ‘I don’t need to care about privacy because I have nothing to hide’ is like saying ‘I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say’,” Snowden said to rapturous applause.

“You have to develop culture that is not submissive. There has to be a measure of anti-authoritarianism.”

In 2013 Snowden leaked confidential documents to the media which exposed a mass phone surveillance program. He was charged with espionage and fled to Moscow, from where he spoke to the Melbourne audience via video link.

Snowden spoke at the conference one day after the US court of appeals ruled that the program he exposed was illegal.

Snowden labelled Australia’s metadata retention laws, passed in March, as a dangerous example of liberal Governments crossing the line on civil liberties.

"Australia's role in mass surveillance around the world is similar to the UK and the Tempora program, which is what's called a rolling internet proffer," he said.

"Basically they use local authorities such as this metadata program that's been passed in Australia to collect everyone's communications in advance of criminal suspicion.

“They collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion in what’s known as pre-criminal investigation.

“The ultimate result there is regardless of whether you’re doing anything wrong, you’re being watched.

"This is dangerous. [These are] not things that Governments have ever traditionally been empowered to claim for themselves as authorities.”

Snowden, who appeared to know detailed information about the domestic and international landscape and presented slides of news articles to back up his statements, said there was little evidence that the metadata laws would work.

“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. We didn’t prioritise the case we had because we had wasted too many resources on watching everybody who didn’t present a threat that we couldn’t allocate the man power, the man hours and the actual dollar resources to watching the people who actually did represent a specific and real threat.”

Snowden also said it was likely that more of the documents he had leaked, which had not yet been published, could be published in the future and could affect Australia.

“The purpose of the free press in society is to do exactly this kind of thing, to champion the public interest, to act as an adversary against the Government on the behalf of the public and to really hold the most powerful officials in our society to the account of the law, which traditionally is quite difficult to do when operations are covered in a veil of secrecy,” he said.

“I think that’s fair to say (that documents relating to Australia will be published).”

Snowden spent over an hour talking to the audience and answered tweets that were read out.

When asked if he was OK, Snowden held up both his hands and said he was in good health, but that he was tired from working long hours.

When asked what Australians could do to help his cause, he said it was important to see past the oft-mentioned threat of terrorism.

“Make sure it doesn’t happen here,” he said.

“Pay attention to the truths, don’t think about the personal cases, don’t wait for it to face on it.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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