The full impact of the surveillance revelations from Edward Snowden will continue to be felt for "unpredictable time to come", Australian Attorney-General George Brandis said in a speech overnight.
Brandis said that criminals and people classed as "national security threats" were using the information Snowden removed from the NSA to avoid detection and prosecution from agencies in the Five Eyes group of nations. The attorney-general said Snowden's revelations had caused damage not only by revealing the content of intelligence, but more damaging Brandis' eyes, were the revelations of the capability of intelligence agencies.
"Capability, which can be decades in development and expect to enjoy a significant operational life expectancy, may be potentially lost over night," Brandis said. "Replacing capability after a set-back is not a fast process and attracts substantial cost. The harms of the Snowden disclosures will continue to be felt for an unpredictable time to come."
"He is a traitor. He is a traitor because, by a cold-blooded and calculated act, he attacked your country by significantly damaging its capacity to defend itself from its enemies, and in doing so, he put your citzen’s lives at risk. And, in the course of doing so, he also compromised the national security of America's closest allies, including Australia's."
Brandis said people that "naively claim" Snowden as a whistleblower were "profoundly wrong".
"Despite the best efforts of some of the gullible self-loathing Left, or the anarcho-libertarian Right, to romanticise him, is he any kind of folk hero."
The attorney-general said that those who knew of the "capabilities and danger of sophisticated modern terrorism" support fewer limitations on intelligence gathering, while people who proposed limiting intelligence collection were arguing from an idealistic angle and had the luxury of not being responsible for public safety.
"I must confess frankly that, as the minister within the Australian system with responsibility for homeland security, the more intelligence I read, the more conservative I become," he said.
"The more deeply I come to comprehend the capacity of terrorists to evade surveillance, the more I want to be assured that where our agencies are constrained, the threat to civil liberty is real and not merely theoretical."
"Significantly, the fundamental principles of governments upholding individual freedoms and ensuring national security do not have to be mutually exclusive. Instead, they should be seen as mutually complimentary — without security there can be no freedom."
Brandis said it was crucial that the Five Eyes nations — US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia — remain together and continue to collaborate on intelligence issues despite the information that Snowden has made public. Governments must work to address the gaps between technological progress and policy, he said, and this was especially so for national security.
"Just as the technology employed by terrorists, agents of espionage and organised criminals adapts and advances, so too must the capabilities and powers of our law enforcement and security agencies."
"But this must always be done with the highest regard to ensuring proportionality to the threat and continued testing and maintenance of oversight mechanisms."
Brandis speech comes as law enforcement agencies in Australia continue to lobby the government for a legal requirement for telecommunications providers to keep customer data for up to two years should agencies need to access the data, without a warrant, for the investigation of crimes.
Brandis has not yet responded to recommendations from a previous parliamentary inquiry on the matter, but has long pointed out that he is focusing on national security as part of his portfolio.
Overnight, a decision by the European Court of Justice ruled against an EU directive which mandated that telcos needed to retain all their customers' communications data for up to two years.