NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden spoke on Friday from Moscow via satellite about Australia’s data retention laws and warns they are dangerous, insisting that instead of keeping our communities safe from terror, they are allowing these acts to occur.
The laws Australia has adopted “have been proven not to work”.
“Australia’s role in mass surveillance around the world is similar to the UK and the Tempora program,” Snowden said via satellite from Moscow, reports The Guardian.
“They’ll collect everyone’s communications, it’s called pre-criminal investigation, which means they are watching everyone all the time. They can search through that information not just in Australia but also share with overseas governments such as the US and UK. And it happens without oversight”.
After much controversy, Australia’s metadata laws were passed in March which have given the green light to telecoms to store customer information for up to two years, in an effort to combat terrorism. Snowden says this is a broken model and such laws are a “radical departure from the operation of traditional liberal societies around the world”.
Speaking for the Progress 2015 conference on Friday evening, Snowden said “The impacts of metadata can’t be overstated, they are collecting data on everyone regardless of wrongdoing. When you have metadata, it’s a proxy for content, so when politicians split hairs about metadata you should be very sceptical”.
He pointed out that the proverbial ‘Big Brother’ had not stopped the Sydney siege and other terror attacks in recent times.
“These were people who have a long record and the reason these attacks happened isn’t because we didn’t have enough surveillance, it’s that we had too much,” he said. “We didn’t prioritise because we’d wasted too many resources watching people who didn’t present a threat”.
The former NSA computer contractor, currently living in Moscow to avoid extradition to the USA, believes we need to avoid living in a world that values surveillance over security.
Interestingly, Snowden tore down on Australia’s attorney general, George Brandis, claiming he “doesn’t even know what metadata is”.
He said something very poignant indeed, and it makes you think: people who say they don’t worry about their privacy because they have nothing to hide “is like saying I don’t care about free speech because I have nothing to say”.
Tell us, do you agree with Edward Snowden? Should we be living in a ‘police state’ with surveillance on our every move and what we’re doing online? Or is it OK when you have nothing to hide? Is it more about the principle?