'Bipartisan agreement' to sideline whistleblowers

'Bipartisan agreement' to sideline whistleblowers

Summary: Refusal to acknowledge Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning as whistleblowers is an endorsement of a wider 'surveillance agenda', according to the Australian Greens party.


The Australian Greens have alleged that there is a "bipartisan agreement" between the Australian government and Opposition to ignore the contribution whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden make to democracy.

Speaking to an Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) conference in Sydney, Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam took aim at comments late last week from federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus that Manning and Snowden are not whistleblowers.

"We have, over the last day or so, seen our attorney-general declare that people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are not whistleblowers and respectively cutting them loose indicating that the Australian government doesn't support the kind of legal protection that really should be [given] to whistleblowers who disclose war crimes," Ludlam said.

"I would argue there is a bipartisan agreement to simply not talk about it. To not make eye contact with any of us and pretend it is all going to go away."

Alluding to the US government's PRISM surveillance program, Ludlam said the reticence to engage on a public debate about whistleblowers is tied to a tacit endorsement of mass surveillance by the major parties.

"It is something which I and a large number of people believe is extremely dangerous, and which breaks the democratic compact that in a democracy: Ordinary citizens should not be subject to indiscriminate dragnet surveillance, nor should they be subject to online censorship," he said.

The federal government's position is that Snowden and Manning's actions do not constitute whistleblowing, because they were not leaking information about government "wrongdoing".

Continuing, Ludlam argued that the PRISM program, as well as proposals such as the Australian government's shelved plan for a data retention bill, constitute a "surveillance agenda" on behalf of Western governments. This agenda, Ludlam claimed, was beginning to result in people self-censoring their behaviour online.

"What the surveillance agenda brings about is a regime of self-censorship, where people will restrict the kinds of communications they have and advice they seek — be that healthcare or sexual health, as two obvious examples," he said.

"We know from experience in Germany that when a national data retention regime was in the process of being implemented, people changed their browsing habits and the kind of health advice they sought, because they figured that it was all going to be archived and potentially used later.

"These are dangerous times, and this is a dangerous debate which needs to be had."

Ludlam said that while US citizens have protections against mass surveillance accorded by that country's Bill of Rights, citizens of other countries did not have these protections. As such, a global agreement — such as the one proposed by German chancellor, Angela Merkel — guaranteeing protection to citizens of all countries is required.

"The kind of global agreement that we are going to need goes beyond simply making the surveillance more transparent," he said. "Some of these programs in my view need to be closed down, so they need to not exist anymore."

The issues of privacy and citizen protections have also been receiving attention within academic and policy circles. Last week the increasing privatisation of intelligence gathering in the US prompted a call for a national debate on the extent, cost, and consequences of Australia's own security and intelligence outsourcing.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has also recently found that as many as 83 percent of Australia's most commonly accessed websites have at least one privacy-related issue and that the average website privacy policy is more than 2,600 words long.

Topics: Security, Government AU, Government US

Tim Lohman

About Tim Lohman

Tim has written about the technology sector since the mid 2000s. He covers innovation across the business, education and government sectors.

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  • If we are going to argue about it, then get the terms right

    They aren't whistleblowers because the information they distributed did not demonstrate unlawful/illegal acts by officials. The information they distributed instead provided evidence of events that were along the lines of immoral or against the spirit of enabling legislation - certainly things that appear to be against what many in the community would expect.

    Unfortunatly, disclosing moral outrages does not give one whistleblower protection. How do you define that in legislation?

    This is a complex debate, and I reckon all sides need to avoid simplistic arguments.
    • Wow

      What Kool Aid have you been drinking?
    • Speaking of Simplistic

      I thought everyone knew that wiretapping a foreign embassy was highly illegal. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Manning and Snowden are not the same

    Manning got people killed. He is a traitor.
    • Wrong

      It has not been demonstrated that Manning's disclosures led to the death of a single person. Dick Cheney and Robert Novak, on the other hand, are traitors by every definition since they deliberately conspired to endanger the life of an active CIA agent by revealing her identity in retaliation to her husband, a vocal opponent of the invasion of Iraq. But when it comes to such laws, politics play a greater role than fact.
  • Those who have something to hide

    Those who have something to hide may prtetend that Manning and Snowden had nothing important to say, but the public may think otherwise. In that case pretending that there is nothing there is not going to make it so. It will only expose and lable them as part of the problem.
  • fascinating...

    seeing the all the way with USA clowns inventing ways to pretend that whistleblowers are not whistleblowers. Except for the more brain dead tea party loony tunes and the federal administration, the vast majority of thinking folk think that the US administration on both sides are corrupt, rogue regimes prepared to throw anyone under a truck to cover their arses and continue their ridiculous surveillance state delusions.

    It is pathetic to see even the Aussies and the Kiwis sucking up to these fascist bullies by rolling over to get their TPPs, NSAs, et al up their rear ends to maintain illusionary alliances with a global thug who will cast them adrift without a passing thought...

    Cowards and scoundrels, and that's just the democrats...
  • Blow What?

    Whistleblowers get an attorney to represent the ideas to be disclosed through proper channels. These guys don't qualify. End of story. For the hero worshippers; wasted taxpayer money by disclosing the technology, aided the enemy and created serious distrust amongst the citizens and their government based on sketchy information.