Australian attorney-general accuses Snowden of endangering lives

Australian Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has told Senate Question Time that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is a traitor to the US who is putting lives at danger.

Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and the nation's Attorney-General Senator George Brandis have once again locked horns in Senate Question Time, with Ludlam today asking Brandis whether Australia needs any reforms to combat government surveillance.

"Does this government, and the attorney-general particularly, recognise the legitimate concerns of Australians about indiscriminate surveillance, or does he honestly believe that there are no reforms necessary here in Australia?" Ludlam said.

In answering the question, Brandis once again branded Edward Snowden as an American traitor , and said that the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor had put lives in danger.

"Senator Ludlam, you celebrate and you make a hero of this man, who through his criminal dishonesty and his treachery to his country has put lives, including Australian lives, at risk," Brandis said.

"And I wonder how you can sit in this parliament, Senator Ludlam, and hold your head up high when you celebrate a man who through criminal conduct and treachery, has put Australian lives at risk."

The attorney-general reiterated that Australia's intelligence agencies work under "a strong framework of surveillance, and under very strong statutory obligations, and accountability obligations".

With Senator Brandis' time to respond expired, Senator Ludlam once again had the call and thanked Brandis for the bluntness of his answer.

"What a chilling response," Ludlam said.

This is not the first time that Ludlam and Brandis have clashed in question time; in December last year, the pair engaged in a battle over the definition of metadata after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described metadata as essentially the "billing data".

"Metadata reveals mobile and landline phone records, a person's precise location, the source and destination of electronic mail, their entire social networks, your web history — could the attorney please give an undertaking to remind the PM of what this term actually means?" Ludlam asked at the time.

Brandis responded by saying that metadata is a term that means different things to different people, and that during the course of parliamentary inquiries in the last parliament, a number of different witnesses had delivered different definitions of the term metadata.

"I, myself, on the basis of having been informed by the evidence of those several witnesses during the course of the last parliament, thought that the prime minister's description of metadata as 'essentially billing details' was a perfectly accurate shorthand description of what is a contestable concept," the attorney-general said.

Brandis is not alone in the Australian government in sharing the view that Snowden is a traitor. Late last month, Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop accused Snowden of "unprecedented treachery" .

"This represents unprecedented treachery; he is no hero," Bishop said.

"Snowden claims his actions were driven by a desire for transparency, but in fact they strike at the heart of the collaboration between those nations in world affairs that stand at the forefront of protecting human freedom."

Documents released by Snowden and handed over to journalists at the public broadcaster ABC showed that in 2009, Australia's Defence Signals Directorate tracked the mobile phone of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for at least 15 days, as well as targeting the president's wife and senior members of the Indonesian government.

Australia is a member of the Five Eyes agreement that provides a framework for the sharing of intelligence amongst the United Kingdom, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.