If there's one thing we can say about the leaks of Edward Snowden, it's that they opened the world's eyes to the true nature of the surveillance state we all live in now. But what of the man? Is what Snowden did right? US politicians have branded him a "traitor", and now the Abbott government is doing the same thing, over and over again.
Australian Parliament sat for the first time in 2014 yesterday, and a heated debate raged in the Senate Chamber when Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens asked Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis about surveillance on the occasion of the anti-surveillance protest movement, The Day We Fight Back.
Senator Ludlam referred to Snowden's leaks, and asked whether the government believed no amendments to surveillance operations were necessary in light of a growing chorus of dissent around the world.
Attorney-General Brandis wasted no time making his feelings about Snowden known (emphasis added):
I note that Senator Ludlam has today published on the Guardian website an article in praise of the American traitor Edward Snowden, displaying a photograph of a bus bearing the signage 'Thank you, Edward Snowden' and under the headline 'Today is the day we fight back'.
Senator Ludlam, you celebrate and 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. I wonder how you can sit in this parliament and hold your head up high when you celebrate a man who, through criminal conduct and treachery, has put Australian lives at risk.
Senator Ludlam described the response as "chilling", later taking Attorney-General Brandis to task over the brand in a speech on surveillance in the chamber.
Senator Ludlam said in the Senate chamber that:
The debate that is unfolding [regarding surveillance] in the United States is actually, I think, quite profound. In contrast, what we get here in Australia is the kind of infantile display put on the record earlier by our Attorney-General. It is completely unacceptable. Senator Brandis accused Mr Edward Snowden, a whistleblower whom I hold in extremely high regard—as do, I imagine, a majority of Australians and millions of people around the world—of being a traitor.
You could almost see the spittle flying from his lips. No evidence or justification was provided for the accusation that the revelations put into the public domain by Mr Snowden—through The Guardian, The New York Times, the ABC and other news organisations doing their job around the world—had created risk for Australians. No evidence at all was provided. They said exactly the same thing about the WikiLeaks revelations: the State Department cables, the war logs that disclosed war crimes, the cables that disclosed illegal activities by the United States State Department in the UN. There was no comment at all from the Liberal Party on those revelations. There was no comment at all about the fact that it appears these agencies have acted unlawfully in the United States or that a detailed set of reform proposals is now before President Obama. Instead, in Australia, there is complete silence—not simply silence, but the kind of contempt on display from our Attorney General this afternoon.
You can read the full debate in yesterday's Senate Hansard (PDF), starting at the bottom of page 19.
This isn't the first time the Abbott government has slandered Snowden as a traitor rather than a whistleblower.
In an ongoing attack against the ABC, Prime Minister Tony Abbott off-handedly referred to Snowden as an American "traitor", adding that the ABC shouldn't align themselves with him or The Guardian; the newspaper that originally published the Snowden leaks.
Whether or not you agree with what Snowden did, it's clear that he's enemy number one when it comes to the ongoing activities of Australia's surveillance community.