Frequently Asked Questions
Who appoints the Inspector-General?
The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is an independent statutory office-holder, who is appointed by the Governor-General under the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 (IGIS Act). Usually the appointment is for five years. The Inspector-General heads the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).
The Inspector-General and the office of the IGIS are not part of the executive government, and have a separate budget and funding so as to maintain their independence and impartiality.
As an independent statutory office holder, the Inspector-General is not subject to general direction from the Attorney-General, or other Ministers, on how they carry out their responsibilities under the IGIS Act. This ensures the integrity of IGIS inspections and inquiries, and is fundamental to IGIS independence and IGIS approach to scrutiny of intelligence agencies.
Under the IGIS Act, the Inspector-General can initiate inquires on their own motion – that is, they can independently decide to inquire into a matter regarding the activities of an intelligence agency and decide how they conduct that inquiry.
Ministers with responsibility for an Australian intelligence agency may request the Inspector-General to conduct inquiries into a matter relevant to that agency. The Prime Minister may request the Inspector-General to conduct an inquiry into an intelligence or security matter relating to any Commonwealth agency, not just the intelligence agencies within IGIS jurisdiction.
IGIS has access to all records and premises of intelligence agencies within its jurisdiction. This ensures IGIS has a sound understanding of the activities of agencies, including the techniques and technologies they may use, and is able to fully investigate and impartially review any matter.
During an inquiry the Inspector-General may:
- compel the giving of information or the production of a document that the Inspector-General has reason to believe is relevant to an inquiry.
- require any person to appear and answer questions where the Inspector-General has reason to believe that they are able to give information relevant to the inquiry.
- administer an oath or affirmation to a person appearing and examine the person on oath or affirmation.
It is an offence to fail to give information or produce a document or answer a question from the Inspector-General when required to do so. There are also protections for those persons giving information, producing a document to, or answering questions from the Inspector-General. Any information which is obtained using these powers is not generally admissible in any court or proceedings.
Is IGIS part of ASIO or another intelligence agency?
The Inspector-General and the office of IGIS are not a part of ASIO or any intelligence or security agency. IGIS is independent and it is funded, staffed and administered separately. The Inspector-General provides independent and impartial reports to Ministers and the Parliament.
What do the different intelligence agencies do?
There are six national intelligence agencies, each with their own mandate. The functions, powers and restrictions of each agency is set out in legislation. All agencies also operate with privacy guidelines or rules.
ONI produces assessments on international political, strategic and economic developments for the Government. ONI uses information collected by other intelligence and government agencies, diplomatic reporting and open sources, including the media, to support its analysis.
ONI was established by the Office of National Intelligence Act 2018 and is responsible for enterprise level management of the National Intelligence Community (NIC). It provides a single point of accountability for the NIC to the Prime Minister and National Security Committee of Cabinet.
ASIO is responsible for the protection of Australia, its people, and its interests from threats to security, whether directed from, or committed within, Australia or overseas. It gathers information and produces intelligence that will enable it to warn the Government about activities that might endanger Australia’s national security.
ASIO’s functions are set out in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979. ASIO is also bound by Guidelines, which include conditions for the collection and handling of personal information, the use of information obtained during an investigation which is relevant to security and when ASIO can communicate certain other information.
ASIS is Australia's overseas secret human intelligence collection agency. ASIS obtains and communicates intelligence not readily available by other means, about the capabilities, intentions and activities of individuals or organisations outside Australia. The functions of ASIS as set out in the Intelligence Services Act 2001 include communicating secret intelligence in accordance with government requirements, conducting counter-intelligence activities and liaising with foreign intelligence or security services.
Under the IS Act 2001, ASIS’s activities are regulated by a series of ministerial directions, ministerial authorisations and Privacy Rules.
ASD is responsible for the collection, analysis and distribution of foreign signals intelligence. It is Australia’s national authority on communications and computer security.
ASD was established as a separate statutory agency by the Intelligence Services Amendment (Establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate) Act 2018.
AGO is Australia’s national geospatial and imagery intelligence agency, and is located within the Department of Defence. Its purpose is to provide geospatial intelligence from imagery and other sources, in support of Australia's defence and national interests. AGO also gives direct assistance to Commonwealth and State bodies responding to security threats and natural disasters.
The functions of AGO are set out in the Intelligence Services Act 2001 and its activities are regulated by a series of ministerial directions, ministerial authorisations and Privacy Rules.
DIO is an intelligence assessment agency that supports Defence and Government decision-making. Its role is to provide independent intelligence assessment, advice and services in support of the planning and conduct of Australian Defence Force operations, strategic policy and decision making on defence and national security issues, and the development of Defence capability.
How does IGIS review the intelligence agencies?
IGIS was established to provide independent scrutiny of Australia’s intelligence agencies. The role of IGIS is to provide independent assurance to Ministers, the Parliament and the public that Australia’s intelligence and security agencies are acting with legality, propriety and consistency with human rights.
While not all information can be made public, IGIS makes available as much information as possible about its oversight program and findings. The Annual Report contains detailed summaries of IGIS investigations and an analysis of agency compliance. This information is also available on our what we do pages. How we go about our work is set out in our approach.
Who else reviews the intelligence agencies?
In addition to IGIS oversight of the activities of Australia’s intelligence agencies, there are a number of other controls and checks.
Some agencies have significant powers set out in legislation. The most significant or potentially intrusive of these powers require a warrant from the Attorney-General or specific ministerial authorisation. This ensure ministerial oversight of these activities. IGIS must also be notified when some of these powers are utilised and there is public reporting required on the frequency of use of some of these powers. Specific provisions are set out in the legislation for each agency.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) reviews the administration and expenditure of the Australian intelligence and security agencies including their financial statements. It may review other matters referred to it, and has oversight over certain intelligence functions, such as retained data and some counter-terrorism. New national security proposals are customarily referred to PJCIS for review of the operation of the proposals on meeting the objectiveness and the adequacy of oversight provisions. The scope of oversight by the Committee is primarily set out in the Intelligence Services Act 2001.
The Australian National Audit Office provides the Parliament with an independent assessment, and assurance about public sector financial reporting, administration, and accountability. Intelligence agencies are subject to performance audits, financial statement audits, and assurance reviews by the Auditor-General.
Intelligence agencies are also open to portfolio scrutiny through Senate Estimates committees on their budget allocations and issues relevant to their functions.
Is my privacy protected on the IGIS website?
If you are concerned about making a complaint or a public interest disclosure, please read our advice in frequently asked questions.
How is my privacy protected by intelligence agencies?
Each of the intelligence agencies has rules or guidelines which determine in what circumstances and what information each agency may collect on a person, the reasons and authorisations that are required, and who they may communicate that information with. There are also protections around the collection, storage and communication of this information.
ASIO is permitted to collect, use, handle or disclose personal information on an Australian person only for purposes connected with its statutory functions. Australia's foreign intelligence collection agencies – ASD, AGO and ASIS – must not conduct an activity to produce intelligence on an Australian person, except in particular circumstances and only when authorised by the relevant Minister.
An Australian person is someone who is an Australian citizen, or a permanent resident of Australia.
Each agency makes public on its website its privacy rules or guidelines.
ASIO: Attorney-General's Guidelines (see Section 13 Treatment of Personal Information)
IGIS regularly inspects how agencies are complying with their privacy rules and guidelines, particularly around the prohibition of certain agencies collecting information on Australian persons. Summaries of IGIS inspection findings on agency compliance with privacy rules or guidelines are included in the IGIS Annual Report and published on the IGIS inspection webpage.
If you wish to make a complaint or make a public interest disclosure about an intelligence agency and are concerned about information you may provide, please read the advice in these sections of Frequently Asked Questions.
Can anyone make a complaint?
Anyone can make a complaint to IGIS.
You can make an anonymous complaint, but with limited information we may not be able to investigate the matter fully. You can provide your identity to IGIS and request that it not be disclosed to the relevant agency.
We ask that you provide some form of contact details, such as an email address, so that we can acknowledge your complaint. We will do this as soon as possible, usually within five business days.
What types of things can I complain to IGIS about?
You can make a complaint to IGIS about:
- an Australian intelligence agency within IGIS jurisdiction (AGO, ASD, ASIO, ASIS, DIO or ONI).
- If you think you have been unfairly affected by the actions of an intelligence agency.
- If you consider that an Australian intelligence agency has acted unlawfully or improperly or not consistent with human rights either to you or to someone else.
- Note: IGIS will not tell you whether you or anyone else is the subject of ASIO surveillance. It is a matter for ASIO to decide what surveillance it may undertake in line with its statutory functions and national security concerns. IGIS can look at ASIO operational activities, including surveillance, to assess whether they are legal and proper. If IGIS has concerns about the legality or propriety of an agency's activities, then these will be investigated.
- Security assessment checks.
- if you are concerned about the process of a security assessment check conducted by ASIO as part of an Australian visa or citizenship application or a security clearance application.
- Note: IGIS does not assess the merits of a security assessment and cannot overturn a decision. IGIS will only examine procedural aspects of an assessment. As security assessment checks can be a lengthy process, please read our Advice on Visa and Citizenship matters before making a complaint.
If you make a complaint, we will consider your issues carefully, and decide what action to take. We will advise you of what happens, as far as secrecy provisions allow.
If your complaint is not regarding AGO, ASD, ASIO, ASIS, DIO or ONI, then IGIS is not able to investigate your concerns. You may wish to seek the advice of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Will I be targeted by an intelligence agency if I make a complaint?
You will not be targeted by ASIO or another intelligence agency because you have made a complaint to IGIS.
ASIO, or another intelligence agency, would only take an interest in a person who complains to IGIS if that person was considered relevant to protecting national security or somehow related to investigating threats to national security. If a member of the public is not engaged in or related to a threat to security, there is not a reason for ASIO, or another intelligence agency, to have an interest in them.
When a complaint is made to IGIS we consider the concerns raised and, if necessary, may provide some basic details to the agency concerned to enable them to respond to the complaint issues. If IGIS considers that your complaint would be better handled by another agency, we will seek your consent to forward your concerns to that agency.
IGIS can also pass your details to another agency if this is necessary to preserve the well-being or safety of a person.
In some circumstances, IGIS can provide a degree of protection to you by not revealing the source of a complaint we are investigating. Further information about protections available in certain circumstances can be found under Public Interest Disclosures.
Can IGIS help with my visa or citizenship matter?
If you are concerned about the security assessment process related your visa or citizenship application, please read our Advice on Visa and Citizenship matters.
How do I contact IGIS to make a complaint?
You can use the online complaint form, or phone or email us. For details go to Make a Complaint.
What is a security assessment?
ASIO conducts security assessments for some visa and citizenship applicants at the request of the Department of Home Affairs. If your application has been referred for a security assessment, ASIO may assess the information you provided and conduct its own checks. ASIO may also ask you to agree to a voluntary interview. ASIO provides its assessment to the Department of Home Affairs, who decide whether to grant or withhold a visa or citizenship application.
ASIO security assessments only consider factors related to security, such as terrorism, other forms of politically motivated violence, espionage and foreign interference, and serious threats to Australia's territorial and border integrity. ASIO security assessments are not the same as a police criminal or character check, and a criminal history, or dishonesty or deceit are not relevant to ASIO assessments unless they relate to national security considerations.
IGIS will not ordinarily confirm or deny whether a particular person has been referred to ASIO for a security assessment.
Can IGIS investigate delays to my security assessment, visa or citizenship application?
A security assessment, visa or citizenship application can be a lengthy process. IGIS will not ordinarily investigate any complaint regarding delays until after a certain period. For more information, see the Advice on Visa and Citizenship Matters.
Can IGIS help with an adverse security assessment?
IGIS is does not undertake merits review and does not reassess any ASIO security assessment. IGIS will only check that ASIO acted with legality and propriety in the process of determining the security assessment. See the Advice on Visa and Citizenship Matters.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal reviews some adverse and qualified ASIO security assessments. This includes assessments provided for Australian passport application or cancellation, some employment-related security assessments, and some visa and citizenship applications. Further information is available on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal website.
The Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments can conduct a form of merits review of adverse security assessments for people who are in immigration detention and owed protection under international law. Eligible individuals should be provided with information about that review option. Further information is available on the website Attorney-General’s Department.
What is the Public Interest Disclosure (PID) scheme ?
The Public Interest Disclosure (PID) scheme promotes integrity and accountability for Australian Government agencies, including Australian intelligence agencies, by encouraging disclosure of information by public officials about suspected wrongdoing. The wrongdoing can have taken place at any time. The scheme protects the confidentiality of disclosers and provides statutory protections against reprisals.
Agencies, including intelligence agencies, are required to take action on disclosures. Agencies are also required to keep disclosers informed of actions taken under the scheme in response to their disclosure.
Intelligence agencies report to IGIS about their actions under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013. Other agencies report to the Ombudsman.
Under the PID scheme disclosures can be made by current or former 'public officials'. This is a broad term which includes all Australian Government public servants, ADF and AFP members, all staff of statutory bodies and Commonwealth companies as well as contracted service providers. Potential disclosers can also be deemed to be 'public officials' in certain circumstances.
How to make a Public Interest Disclosure
Disclosures can be made to supervisors or to an Authorised Officer. All agencies, including intelligence agencies, are required to make formal appointments of 'Authorised Officers' within the agency to receive, consider and take decisions on disclosures.
The PID scheme does not allow for external (or public) disclosure of intelligence information.
Disclosures about intelligence agencies can also be made directly to IGIS if you believe on reasonable grounds that it would be appropriate for IGIS to investigate the disclosure. If you need to disclose classified information please contact IGIS first so that appropriate steps can be taken to enable you to make a disclosure without breaching security procedures.
You can email IGIS at PID@igis.gov.au or phone IGIS on (02) 6141 4555.
What is the role of the IGIS in the Public Interest Disclosure scheme?
If a PID is made regarding an intelligence agency, the agency is required to advise IGIS and keep IGIS informed of follow-up actions. In significant cases the disclosure might be allocated to IGIS for investigation.
If a PID is made directly to IGIS, we will liaise with the agency concerned to determine the most appropriate course of action. This may include allocating the matter to the concerned agency for examination and possible investigation, or initiation either of an investigation under the PID Act or an inquiry under the IGIS Act.
IGIS responsibilities include monitoring the actions of intelligence agencies to ensure they comply with the PID scheme, as well as assisting current and former public officials of intelligence agencies in relation to the operation of the PID Act.
Individuals who are or were 'public officials' may be covered by the protections in the PID Act when making a disclosure to the IGIS.
A disclosers' identity will be kept confidential as far as practicable. It is an offence to provide identifying information about a discloser without their consent, unless there is specific authority to do so under the PID Act.
Disclosers also have immunity from civil, criminal or administrative liability – including disciplinary action – for making a disclosure. It is a criminal offence to take, or threaten to take, reprisals against a discloser.
IGIS has responsibility to ensure intelligence agencies comply with the PID scheme, including to ensure agencies comply with the requirement to protect disclosers from reprisals. IGIS will examine how the intelligence agency has managed a PID complaint in any case where it is claimed that the discloser suffered from reprisals.
Do IGIS officers have security clearances?
All IGIS officers hold and maintain a Positive Vetting security clearance (previously known as a Top Secret Positive Vetting) which is the highest clearance available in Australia. Officers are also required to comply with strict secrecy provisions..
Yes. Secrecy undertakings and obligations do not prevent you from disclosing information to IGIS.
Note: There are many restrictions that apply to conveying certain information other than to IGIS. Unless a secrecy undertaking specifically states a time frame, undertakings of this kind ordinarily have enduring effect (that is, they are binding for life). Even if a secrecy undertaking specifies a time limit, you may also be bound by legal restrictions about conveying official information without authority (Crimes Act 1914), revealing the identity of ASIO or ASIS agency staff, or details of operational activities (under the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 and the Intelligence Services Act 2001).
However, as it is the role of IGIS to take complaints and public interest disclosures about the activities of intelligence agencies, it is not a breach of a secrecy provision or secrecy undertaking to provide information to IGIS. Complaints may be made by members of the public, current or former employees of an intelligence agency or sources or agents.
If you wish to provide classified information to IGIS, you should contact the office to make arrangements to transmit information in a secure manner. For more information see the frequently asked questions on make a complaint and what is a public interest disclosure.
My security clearance was denied – can IGIS review this?
If your security clearance was denied and you wish to appeal the decision, first contact the agency that sponsored your application and request information about the internal review mechanisms and your appeals process.
If you receive an adverse or qualified security assessment from ASIO, in certain circumstances you can apply to the Security Appeals Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review.
Certain adverse and qualified security assessments that have been made by ASIO can be appealed in the Security Appeals Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
In some cases you may have the right to go to the Fair Work Commission.
IGIS does not assess the merits of any particular security clearance assessment and cannot overturn a decision. However IGIS may examine procedural aspects of security assessments made by ASIO. Where the IGIS considers that a processing error may have been made, or that the assessment lacks balance or objectivity, or there are questions as to the legality or propriety of the process, the IGIS may ask the agency to conduct a fresh assessment.
If you believe there has been an error of this nature, or the process has not been objective or fair, you make be able to make a complaint to IGIS.
My security clearance was suspended or withdrawn – can IGIS intervene?
If your employer is suspending or withdrawing your security clearance, then you should have been provided written notice of this and details of any appeal mechanism should be included in that notice. If you haven’t received information about any appeals process open to you, you should first request this from your employer.
Depending on the circumstances and your employer, different mechanisms may be open to you. In some cases you may have the right to go to the Fair Work Commission if your employment is terminated.
IGIS does not review decisions relating to security clearances or employment grievances. Where the employer is an intelligence agency, in some circumstances IGIS may review the legality and propriety of the decision-making to ensure the process was procedurally fair and objective.
You should first request information from your employer about any appeal process, and read the advice on make a complaint to IGIS.
Do I have to agree to an interview with ASIO?
In nearly all circumstances, you cannot be made to attend an interview or participate in an interview with ASIO if you do not want to. The only exception is if ASIO has sought a particular Questioning Warrant which may require you to attend or participate in questioning. These warrants are very rarely used and your rights and obligations will be clearly explained to you. IGIS is notified if this particular type of Questioning Warrant is used.
ASIO may ask to interview you to obtain information relevant to national security or on occasions as part of a security assessment, such as for visa or citizenship applications. These interviews are voluntary. There may be benefits to you and to national security in participating in an ASIO interview. If you are a visa applicant it may be difficult for ASIO to finalise a security assessment that is required for the visa process if you do not participate in an interview or if you do not answer questions fully and truthfully.
If you have agreed to a voluntary interview with ASIO, you can stop the interview for a break or leave at any time if you want to.
Can I have a lawyer present at an ASIO interview?
If you agree to participate in an ASIO interview you can ask to have a lawyer present. ASIO may ask you to provide the contact details for the lawyer ahead of time and may ask them to make a confidentiality undertaking.
If ASIO decides that the presence of your lawyer is counterproductive, they may tell you this and may stop the interview. At any point in an interview, you can ask ASIO to explain your rights and obligations.
Can I tell anyone that I have been interviewed by ASIO?
If you have participated in a voluntary interview with ASIO you can tell others that you have done this if you want to. For example you may want to tell a lawyer or migration agent about the interview so they can give you advice.
If a Questioning Warrant has required you to attend or participate in an interview, then some restrictions may apply. These warrants are very rarely used and your rights and obligations will be clearly explained to you. IGIS is notified if this particular type of Questioning Warrant is used.
No, IGIS cannot assist you to obtain a file from any intelligence agency.
ASIO and other intelligence agencies are exempt agencies under the Freedom of Information Act 1982. This means members of the public are not able to request or obtain access to current intelligence agency records.
Access to past records of intelligence agencies may subject to release under the Archives Act 1983 after a certain period of time – usually 20 years. Records that have passed that time period are examined by the relevant intelligence agency prior to any public release to determine if there is information which should be exempt on security grounds.
All requests for historical intelligence agency records should be directed to National Archives of Australia.
If you have applied for access to a document under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) or the Archives Act 1983 (Archives Act) and the relevant Commonwealth agency is claiming an exemption under section 33 of the FOI Act, then IGIS may be asked to give evidence.
Exemptions under section 33 relate to damage to the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth and to the disclosure of information communicated in confidence by a foreign government. IGIS can be requested to give expert evidence to the Information Commissioner and the Administrative Appeal Tribunal (the AAT) on the requested material and the categories of exemption.
IGIS does not become a party to the proceedings and any evidence given by IGIS is independent of the agency claiming the exemption. Sometimes the evidence IGIS provides is classified and the Information Commissioner or the AAT may restrict access to some or all of IGIS evidence.
It is the role of the Information Commissioner or the AAT, not IGIS, to determine whether a document should be released. The role of the IGIS is to provide independent evidence on the categories of exempted matters in order to assist the Information Commissioner or the AAT in making their decision. The Information Commissioner and the AAT are not bound by the opinion of IGIS.
If you wish to report suspicious activity, contact the National Security Hotline:
Phone: 1800 1234 00
From outside Australia: (+61) 1300 1234 01
SMS: 0429 771 822
TTY: 1800 234889
The National Security Hotline passes the information to the appropriate Australian police and security agencies for analysis and investigation.
Find out more on the National Security website.