The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) conducts regular inspections of the AIC agencies and conducts inquiries, of varying levels of formality, as the need arises.
The overarching purpose of these activities is to ensure that each AIC agency acts legally and with propriety, complies with ministerial guidelines and directives, and respects human rights.
The significant focus of the office is on-going inspection and monitoring activities. In addition to being the primary means of ascertaining each agency’s compliance with the legal and policy framework, it also serves to identify issues or concerns before they develop into systemic problems which then require major remedial action.
The inspection program, supported by regular formal dialogue and occasional specifically focussed inspection projects, has a strong positive effect on influencing normative behaviour within the agencies. These activities have included:
- the scheduling of monthly meetings with senior collection agency managers so that we might discuss issues of topical and on-going interest to our respective agencies
- continuing to review relevant accountability documents for every request made by ASIO for the use of special powers warrants
- reviewing authorisations issued within ASIO to conduct investigations into persons of security interest
- reviewing a sample of accesses to Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) data
- regularly reviewing the application of privacy rules to products/records generated by ASIS, ASD and AGO, and the application of the privacy guidelines applicable to ONI and DIO
- reviewing all ministerial authorisations issued to the foreign intelligence collection agencies by their respective ministers
- reviewing ASIS operational files on a regular and targeted basis
- reviewing the application of relevant weapons guidelines and approval processes in respect of ASIS personnel
- regularly speaking to AIC staff at ‘in-house’ training courses, to promote awareness of the importance of accountability and acting legally and with propriety, and
- regularly visiting AIC offices and sites around Australia.
This inspection role is complemented by an inquiry function.
In undertaking inquiries the IGIS has very strong investigative powers, akin to those of a Royal Commission. Inquiries are conducted in private because they almost invariably involve highly classified or sensitive information, and the methods by which it is collected. The public ventilation of this material could be potentially very harmful to those persons involved in its collection, or compromise collection, neither of which would serve the national interest.
Preliminary inquiries will usually be pursued if there is a question about the jurisdiction of the IGIS which requires further information before it can be resolved, or in cases where further information is required from the agency in question, in order to form a view as to whether a fuller inquiry is required. Preliminary inquiries are, as the name suggests, less formal than a full inquiry and will ordinarily be sufficient to address issues raised by a complainant, or any concerns which the IGIS might have, without the need to proceed to a full inquiry.
The bulk of complaints made to the office are processed administratively. This entails oral and written communications between the office and the relevant functional area of the relevant agency, initially at the desk officer level, to ascertain the facts of the matter, to obtain a progress report and to report back to the complainant. The level of contact is escalated, as necessary, depending on the individual circumstances of each case. On occasion complaints of this kind will be pursued more formally by means of a preliminary inquiry, or full inquiry.
The most formal means of investigating a complaint, responding to a formal request from a responsible Minister for an investigation into a matter within IGIS remit, or for IGIS to pursue a matter on by own motion is by means of an inquiry, more commonly referred to as “full inquiries” in my office, so as to readily distinguish them from “preliminary inquiries”. Full inquiries are not initiated lightly, as a number of statutory steps need to be complied with, and because IGIS may utilise the full suite of special powers in the course of a full inquiry including the power to compulsorily obtain information and documents, to enter premises occupied or used by an AIC agency, to issue notices to persons to attend before IGIS to answer questions relevant to the matter under inquiry, and to administer an oath or affirmation.