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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How can I join ASIO?
  2. Who does ASIO investigate?
  3. What are ASIO's special powers?
  4. How is ASIO different from the police?
  5. Does ASIO need a warrant to talk to members of the public?
  6. When can ASIO obtain a questioning warrant or a questioning and detention warrant?
  7. Do ASIO officers carry firearms?
  8. Can member of the public access ASIO files?
  9. Do the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act apply to ASIO?
  10. Does ASIO operate overseas?
  11. Does ASIO share information with foreign intelligence agencies?
  12. What are the current threats to Australia's national security?
  13. Is ASIO accountable to the government?


1. How can I join ASIO?

Visit ASIO Careers

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2. Who does ASIO investigate?

In line with ASIO's role, the Organisation investigates persons who pose a threat to Australia's security. The ASIO Act defines security as the protection of Australia and its people from:

  • espionage;
  • sabotage;
  • politically motivated violence;
  • promotion of communal violence;
  • attacks on Australia's defence system; or
  • acts of foreign interference.

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3. What are ASIO's special powers?

Legislation grants ASIO special powers to use intrusive methods of investigation under warrant in cases where they are justified by the magnitude and the immediacy of the threat and the likelihood it will occur, including special powers to intercept telecommunications, use listening devices and tracking devices, remotely access computers, enter and search premises and examine postal articles. Under warrant, ASIO may also detain and/or question an individual within the parameters established by the ASIO Act.

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4. How is ASIO different from the police?

ASIO's investigations are focussed on establishing whether an individual's activities are, or could reasonably be expected to be, relevant to security. There is a degree of overlap between ASIO's work and that of law enforcement agencies in the context of terrorism-related offences. ASIO officers do not have executive powers and cannot arrest people (the focus of ASIO's intelligence investigations is the prevention of harm to Australians and Australian interests).

The Attorney-General's Guidelines require investigations to be conducted with as little intrusion into privacy as possible, consistent with the national interest. The use by ASIO of intrusive investigation methods is determined by the gravity and immediacy of the the threat to security posed by the subject. Where the threat is assessed as serious, or could emerge quickly, a greater degree of intrusion may be necessary. Use of these powers - which are governed by strict warrant procedures - requires that the subject's activities are, or are reasonably suspected to be, prejudicial to security.

Proposals to use special powers are subject to rigorous internal consideration and approvals at a senior level. Documentation is reviewed with ASIO's Legal Division before the Director-General gives approval to request a warrant from the Attorney-General. Warrants are issued for specific periods. At the expiry of each warrant ASIO must report to the Attorney-General on the extent to which the operation helped ASIO carry out its functions. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has access to all warrant material and regularly monitors the process. The Inspector-General also examines and audits all ASIO warrant documentation. The Director-General may issue warrants for up to 48 hours in emergency situations. The Attorney-General is to be advised of any such warrants.

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5. Does ASIO need a warrant to talk to members of the public?

No. ASIO officers frequently seek information from members of the public and do not require a warrant for this purpose.

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6. When can ASIO obtain a questioning warrant or a questioning and detention warrant?

Questioning and detention warrants can only be sought as a last resort for the purpose of investigating a terrorism offence where other means of investigation would be ineffective.

Who can be present during questioning?

Questioning is conducted in the presence of a proscribed authority (a former or serving senior Judge or the President or Deputy President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal) or the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS). All interviews are video-recorded. Unless a proscribed authority deems that this may hinder investigations, a lawyer may attend during questioning.

For how long can a person be questioned?

ASIO is able to question people for a maximum of 24 hours in eight-hour blocks. Where an interpreter is required, a person can be question for a maximum of 48 hours, subject to review by a prescribed authority.

In what instances can a person be detained?

ASIO has not used the power to detain. However, in some limited circumstances, a person can be detained if the Attorney-General is satisfied of the need for the person to be brought into custody. ASIO does not have the power to arrest people - this can only be done by a police officer. A person who is detained is not charged with a crime, however is subject to questioning and investigation during that time.

How long can a person be detained?

For a maximum of seven days.

Do these powers apply to persons under 16 years?

These powers do not apply to people under the age of 16. Those who are over 16, but under 18, can be questioned in the presence of a parent, guardian or appropriate other person. They can be detained for a total of 48 hours, but this may be extended for up to a week.

Do people have to answer ASIO's questions?

Under a questioning warrant persons are obliged to answer questions and can be charged for providing misleading answers.

Who authorises a detention warrant?

An Issuing Authority (Federal Magistrate or Federal Judge) is responsible for the issue of a warrant to detain a person, providing the Attorney-General has given his/her consent to allow ASIO to request such a warrant. The police are responsible for managing the detention under warrant, not ASIO.

What is the difference between the power of arrest and detention under an ASIO warrant?

The power of arrest is an executive power conferred on police officers to take individuals into custody in certain circumstances and does not always require the existence of a warrant. For example, a police officer may arrest a person for a driving offence or for carrying out a burglary. The special power to detain someone under the ASIO Act is only authorised under a warrant signed by an issuing authority. An issuing authority is a judge or magistrate who has been appointed in writing by the Attorney-General. ASIO Officers do not have the power of arrest, and the police are responsible for detention under an ASIO warrant.

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7. Do ASIO officers carry firearms?

ASIO officers do not carry firearms

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8.Can member of the public access ASIO files?

Under the Archives Act 1983, members of the public can apply to the National Archives of Australia to access information that has been held of ASIO files for more that 30 years. Many files of this age can be made available, in whole or in part. Some information can be withheld if it prejudices current investigations, reveals methods of investigation, identifies people that are current or past sources of information or ASIO officers, or endangers foreign liaison relationships. Applicants can request an internal reconsideration of a decision by ASIO to withhold information. If unsuccessful, they can then lodge an appeal with an external body, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

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9. Do the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act apply to ASIO?

ASIO is not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The Privacy Act 1988 does not apply to the disclosure of personal information to ASIO by other agencies.

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10. Does ASIO operate overseas?

ASIO's mandate extends to wherever threats to Australians and Australian interests occur, and is not limited geographically. The Organisation continues to expand its network of international liaison offices and strengthen its relationships with international intelligence and security agencies in order to enhance its capability to carry out its functions.

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11. Does ASIO share information with foreign intelligence agencies?

In accordance with the ASIO Act, ASIO may cooperate with the agencies of other countries in order to carry out its functions. In this context, and with the approval of the Attorney-General, ASIO may communicate with the security and intelligence authorities of a range of countries. Developments in the regional and global security environment have implications for Australia's national security, so these international relationships form an important plank in ASIO's counter-terrorism efforts.

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12. What are the current threats to Australia's national security?

Go to The Security Environment

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13. Is ASIO accountable to the government?

Go to Accountability

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