Snowden's impact an 'operational matter': Brandis

In Senate Estimates today, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis held the line on his previous statement that documents released by Edward Snowden had endangered lives, but that specifics were 'operational matters'.

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis has told Senate Estimates that the Australian government and intelligence agencies are aware of at least one incident where the documents released by Edward Snowden have led to a person's life being placed in danger.

Under questioning from Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam, Brandis confirmed statements made in the Senate earlier this month , that Snowden's actions had endangered lives.

"Senator, you ask me am I aware of particular cases, yes. Yes," said Brandis.

Ludlam, alluding to the White House report delivered to US President Obama late last year , which said that the bulk collection of telephony metadata "was not essential" to preventing attacks and could be garnered in other ways, asked the attorney-general if he had passed this knowledge onto the Americans.

"Senator Ludlam, you asked me if I am aware of particular cases, the answer to your question is: Yes, on the basis of the intelligence briefings I receive," the attorney-general said.

"The intelligence agencies speak to their interlocutors in allied countries, including the United States, on a constant basis."

Ludlam's request for documentary evidence to back up Brandis' assertions fell on deaf ears, as the attorney-general cited precedent for keeping any evidence under wraps.

"Under no circumstances would any Australian government provide in an open forum the intelligence briefings that its intelligence agencies prepare for the attorney-general and the relevant ministers," Brandis said.

The attorney-general questioned Ludlam's summation that the White House report had said that mass surveillance could not identify a single instance of a terrorist attack being thwarted by mass surveillance.

"I don't think that is an accurate paraphrase of that report," he said. "Read the relevant paragraphs, senator, have you got it in front of you?

"Might I suggest that you go back and consult, because your paraphrase of that report is inaccurate when you say 'could not identify'."

Throughout the Estimates hearing, Ludlam attempted numerous times, and at different intervals, to find out whether the Attorney-General's Department had conducted any work on a data retention policy since the September federal election. Each time the question was put to the departmental secretary, Roger Wilkins, a definitive answer was not forthcoming.

When questioned by Ludlam on why it was taking so long to return an answer, Wilkins said it was due to the department trying to prove a negative assumption.

"I need to ask everybody to make sure there is nothing happening in any corner of the department that I do not know about on this one," Wilkins said.