Snowden: Australia's data-retention laws are 'dangerous'

Australia's mandatory data-retention laws are a 'radical departure from the traditional operations of a liberal society', according to former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden, the man Australian Attorney-General George Brandis labelled a "traitor", has slammed Brandis' mandatory data-retention laws and warned that future leaked US National Security Agency (NSA) documents will reveal Australia's surveillance operations.

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Data-retention legislation passed in March will force Australian telecommunications companies to retain customer data, including call records, assigned IP addresses, text message details, and location data, for two years. Australia's law-enforcement agencies can then access this data with only internal approval, and without judicial oversight -- except when accessing the data of a journalist for the purpose of investigating a leak.

The former NSA contractor turned whistleblower, speaking at a conference in Melbourne via videolink in Moscow on Friday, told the audience that contrary to law-enforcement claims, most of the time, the police have enough data available to them on people involved in jihadist attacks.

"These are people who had a long record, and the reason these attacks happened is not because we didn't have enough surveillance; in fact, it's because we had too much," he said.

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

Under mandatory data retention, Australia would share its stored data under the Tempora Program, Snowden said, which is a "roving internet buffer" used by authorities to collect data in advance of crimes being committed.

"This is called pre-criminal investigation. And what this means is they are watching everybody all the time, they're collecting information, and they're just putting it in piles that they can search through not only locally, not only within Australia, but they can then share this with foreign intelligence services, such as the United States national security, the United Kingdom's government communications headquarters, and they can troll through these communications in the same way, and this often happens beyond any sort of court oversight," Snowden said.

"The ultimate result there is the fact that regardless of whether or not you're doing anything wrong, you are being watched."

Despite Labor forcing the government to amend the legislation to require agencies to obtain a warrant when accessing a journalist's metadata for investigating a leak, Snowden said it would be simple for agencies to determine a leak without ever directly accessing a journalist's own data.

"They can go, 'Well, which employees from this agency had contracted press organisations?' And immediately, they have a list of suspects.

"This is dangerous, this is not things that governments have ever traditionally been in power claim for themselves as authorities, and to have that change recently passed, in the recent past, sort of the 2013 era, is a radical departure from the traditional operations of liberal society."

Snowden told the audience that it would be "fair to say" that more information on Australia's surveillance operations would come from future leaks from his trove of NSA documents.

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