Harms of Snowden disclosures will continue to be felt: Brandis

Harms of Snowden disclosures will continue to be felt: Brandis

Summary: Australian Attorney-General George Brandis has labelled proponents of Edward Snowden's whistleblower status as naive, gullible, and anarchic, in a speech delivered in Washington DC overnight.


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."

Following what has come a common occurrence when the issue of Snowden is addressed by Australia's chief law officer, Brandis once again labelled Edward Snowden a traitor.

"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.

Topics: Security, Government, Government AU, Privacy, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Australia


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Dangerous terrorists at the United Nations?

    I am sure he Five Eye Nations will miss not being able to spy on Angela Merkel and the United Nations, very dangerous terrorists indeed.
  • Looks like...

    ...Sen. Brandis is going to spend the next three years running against Edward Snowden, who will of course, not be a candidate in any Australian elections during the foreseeable future.
    John L. Ries
    • It's actually rather odd...

      ...that Mr. Brandis is the Australian government's spokesman on the Snowden Affair at all. Edward Snowden is not an Australian citizen, is not accused of committing any crimes against Australia, and if he's ever apprehended, he will assuredly be prosecuted by a US Attorney in a US District Court; with zero Australian involvement.

      There should be only two Australian officials with anything at all to say about Mr. Snowden in public: the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. Sen. Brandis is neither.
      John L. Ries
  • Australian Attorney-General George Brandis is an idiot

    First, Edward Snowden was not an Australian citizen, so it is by definition absolutely impossible for him to be a traitor as Brandis claims. Which makes Brandis not only an idiot, but also an ignoramus and a liar.

    Second, Snowden's revelations showed clear violations of the law by the government. Those revelations were made specifically to the press, not a particular foreign government. That makes him a de facto whistleblower, not a spy. Again, Brandis gets an F (or should that be 4 Pinocchios?) for his fallacious tirade against Snowden.

    Finally, Brandis shows complete ignorance about how to maintain freedom. The fundamental principle of freedom requires people to know what their government is doing in order for them to exercise control over their government. Secrecy in the government has ALWAYS been the enemy of freedom. One would think that the AG of Australia, being a former member of the British Empire, and the British Commonwealth, and retaining ties to the King or Queen would be familiar with the work of George Orwell, aka Eric Arthur Blair, a world-reknown English writer and its warning against totalitarianism. Well, perhaps he is familiar with it after all, and is dead set on making sure such a dystopian future happens.
  • Laughable George.

    George "Mr Sheen" Brandis shows us all once again what an idiot he is. Snowden hasn't been accused or charged of being a traitor by his own country so does this mean Brandis knows more than the US about Snowden's activities? Julie Bishop is just as ignorant, as she also called Snowden a traitor.
    Brandis often goes off half cocked as he did with the East Timor ASIO spying blunder giving authority to raid and remove sensitive files from a lawyer acting for East Timor. East Timor has taken the Australian government to the international court over this spying incident which was also confirmed by Snowden. This over the top spying on the general public is not legal and it's about time governments started acting legally themselves and stop using national security as a vehicle to take away our rights to privacy.
    Polish up your act Mr Sheen Brandis and start representing the people's interests, not law enforcement lobbyists wanting more and more power without being scrutinised and wanting to use it willy nilly on anyone and everyone without justification.
  • This little fool...

    ... should stick to jester dancing at fascist dj's weddings... on our dime, of course...
  • Naive, gullible & anarchic (since I agree with Snowden to some degree) ...

    but here's my comment anyway ;-)

    It appears that Mr. Brandis won't be winning any IT popularity awards in his native country, yet nevertheless, there may be a way to satisfy both him and his critics. It's called fully homomorphic encryption, and if it had been used on the data NSA was stockpiling, they could have done their spycraft while at the same time have NOT known anything about the vast majority of the citizens in their databases. How's that? By doing all their analysis on FULLY ENCRYPTED data which they themselves could NOT decrypt, until they had a dataset of only a few possibilities, and then only with court permission (because the court holds the private encryption key). Sound impossible? Until 2010, the math world thought it was impossible, but then a guy at Stanford in the U.S. proved it could be done. Since then, a lot of progress has been made, and there is hope for more progress to come. If it can be worked out, the result will be a true revolution in privacy.

    Here's an example:

    1. You want to buy a book on some website. Today, you must in some measure give that website personal information about you, along with a valid CC, which a hacker might take later and use to steal your money/identity.
    2. Suppose, instead, that you could give the website a fully encrypted dataset, which they could use to charge your CC and ship you the book, while never knowing your actual name, address, DOB, govt. ID or CC details?
    3. Now, if the hacker breaks in, all he gets is a glob of numbers and letters; he can't do anything with them.
    4. Meanwhile the bank can deduct the cost from your account without knowing what that cost is, and the shipper can ship without knowing who you are or where you live (only the postman gets that on the morning of delivery).

    If you spin this out to all the large organizations we need as a society to function, you get government and corporations which respect privacy because they HAVE TO. They can't do otherwise.

    If this sounds both impossible and confusing, read this blog post:


    If you are up to the math, it has other links as well.

    IOW, we might be able to have our [fully homomorphically encrypted word] and eat it too!