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Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden (Reuters/Charles Platiau)
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden accused Australia of undertaking mass surveillance of its citizens and passing laws on the collection of metadata that he says do not protect society from acts of terrorism.
Snowden, addressing the Progress 2015 conference in Melbourne via satellite link, criticized Australia's new metadata laws, which allow the government and intelligence agencies to keep a constant watch on citizens.
"What this means is they are watching everybody all the time,” the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower said. “They're collecting information and they're just putting it in buckets that they can then search through not only locally, not only in Australia, but they can then share this with foreign intelligences services.”
Last month, Australia passed controversial laws that require telecommunications firms to retain their customers’ phone and computer metadata for two years.
Snowden decried this disturbing trend, warning that regardless of what you are doing “you're being watched."
He compared Australia's mass surveillance system to that being
used in the UK.
"Australia's role in mass surveillance around the world is similar to the UK and the Tempora program," he said.
Snowden, who has been living in Moscow since June 2013 after
receiving political asylum, criticized the Australian
government’s passage of a metadata program that is being used, he
said, to “collect everyone's communications in advance of
"This is dangerous," he told the conference.
The former system administrator for the CIA said such invasive surveillance technologies had nothing in common with traditional liberal societies.
"This is not things that governments have ever traditionally been empowered to claim for themselves as authorities.
"And to have that change recently ... is a radical departure from the operation of traditional liberal societies around the world."
Snowden repeated his position that acts of terrorism in the US
and elsewhere have not been thwarted by conducting mass
surveillance on citizens.
"Nine times out of 10 when you see someone on the news who's engaged in some sort of radical jihadist activity, these are people who had a long record," he said.
"The reason these attacks happened is not because we didn't have enough surveillance, it's because we had too much."
Aside from average citizens, he warned that journalists are also
at risk of having their contacts exposed by the mass
"Under these mandatory metadata laws you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are."
He excoriated such a turn of events, saying the purpose of a free
press in society is to “act as an adversary against the
government on behalf of the public."
Snowden’s comments came on the same day that a US federal appeals court ruled the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records was illegal. In a unanimous decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York called the bulk phone records collection "unprecedented and unwarranted."
The ruling, which Snowden called “extraordinarily encouraging,” comes as Congress confronts a June 1 deadline to renew a section of the Patriot Act that allows the NSA’s bulk data surveillance.
Meanwhile, Snowden seems determined to reveal more information from the National Security Agency (NSA) files, hinting there was yet more information about Australia’s intelligence work that would be revealed at a later date.