The Role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security
The Inspector-General is an independent statutory office holder appointed by the Governor-General under the IGIS Act. The Hon Margaret Stone AO FAAL was appointed as Inspector-General for a five year term from 24 August 2015 to 23 August 2020.
IGIS is an agency within the Attorney-General’s portfolio, with separate appropriation and staffing. As an independent statutory office holder, the Inspector-General is not subject to general direction from the Attorney-General, or other Ministers, on how responsibilities under the IGIS Act should be carried out.
Under the IGIS Act, the role of the Inspector-General is to assist Ministers in overseeing and reviewing the activities of the Australian intelligence agencies for legality and propriety and for consistency with human rights. This means:
legality: intelligence agencies operate within and comply with the legislation governing their activities, and with ministerial guidelines and directives.
propriety: the use of powers by intelligence agencies is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.
human rights: the activities of intelligence agencies are consistent with and respect human rights.
The Inspector-General discharges these responsibilities through a combination of inspections, preliminary inquiries, formal inquiries and investigations into complaints.
The Inspector-General also assists the Government in assuring the Parliament and the Australian public that intelligence and security agencies, including their operational activities, are open to scrutiny. Independence is fundamental to the role of IGIS and it is the policy of IGIS to make public as much information as possible about IGIS’s activities as is consistent with secrecy requirements.
IGIS carries out regular inspections of the intelligence agencies that are designed to identify issues of concern at an early stage, including those in the agencies’ governance, compliance and control frameworks. Early identification of such issues may avert the need for major remedial action.
The inspection role is complemented by an inquiry function. In undertaking inquiries the Inspector-General has strong investigative powers, similar to those of a royal commission. These include the power to compel persons to answer questions and produce documents and to take sworn evidence.
IGIS can also investigate complaints and public interest disclosures (PID) made by members of the public or intelligence agency staff, about the activities of intelligence agencies. Complaints or PIDs may also give rise to inquiries.
The role and functions of the Inspector-General are important elements of the overall accountability framework imposed on the intelligence agencies. The Inspector-General’s oversight of operational activities of the intelligence agencies complements other oversight, including by the PJCIS and the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).
OUR APPROACH TO OUR ROLE
INDEPENDENT AND IMPARTIAL – we select what to look at and how to look at it
Independence is fundamental to the Inspector-General’s role. This includes independence in selecting matters for inspection or inquiry as well as in undertaking and reporting on those activities. IGIS officers have direct access to intelligence agency systems and are able to retrieve and check information independently. Our approach is impartial and our assessments unbiased.
ASTUTE AND INFORMED – we know what agencies are doing and why
Each of the intelligence agencies we oversee has its individual mandate; its procedures and operations are directed to that mandate. To target our inspections and inquiries effectively and efficiently we need to understand the purpose and functions of each of the intelligence agencies as well as their operational planning, risk management and approach to compliance. We also need to have a sound understanding of the techniques and technologies used by the agencies to obtain, analyse and disseminate intelligence. Being well informed allows us to target our oversight efficiently and with flexibility.
MEASURED – we focus on serious and systemic issues
We appreciate the complex environment in which intelligence agencies operate and we accept that at times errors may occur. We identify errors and possible problems, and encourage agencies to identify and self-report breaches and potential breaches of legislation and propriety. Our risk-based approach targets activities of high risk and activities with the potential to adversely affect the lives or rights of citizens. We take into account an agency’s internal control mechanisms as well as its history of compliance and reporting. Our focus is on identifying serious, systemic or cultural problems in the activities of the agencies we oversee and ensuring that non-compliance with requirements of legality and propriety is as infrequent as is possible.
OPEN – we are open about our approach to oversight
We make as much as possible of our information public; however, a large part of the information that IGIS deals with is classified and cannot be released publicly. Nevertheless, in our annual report, unclassified inquiry reports, on our website and in our responses to complaints we include as much information as we can about our activities, including our oversight of intelligence agency activities. We aim to ensure that intelligence agencies provide Ministers with accurate reports of their intelligence activities; this includes reporting on their use of special powers, such as warrants, as well as reporting their non-compliance with legislative requirements.
INFLUENTIAL – we assist agencies improve their compliance
IGIS oversight is a key part of the accountability framework within which intelligence agencies operate. Our inspections and inquiries make a positive contribution to compliance; they lead to effective changes in agency processes and assist in fostering a culture of compliance. Important to these outcomes is that we work cooperatively with other oversight bodies to avoid duplication. Our program of public engagement and our submissions to parliamentary committees encourage informed debate about the activities of the agencies as well as the policies reflected in those activities.
ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE As at 30 June 2020, the Office had 33 Australian Public Service (APS) staff. The Inspector-General is supported by a Deputy Inspector-General and two Assistant Inspectors-General.
The Deputy Inspector‑General is the chief operating officer and chief security officer for the agency. The Deputy Inspector-General also has significant input into IGIS investigations, governance and strategy matters, legal issues and is responsible for parliamentary matters.
The Assistant Inspector-General Intelligence Oversight and Complaints Branch manages the teams responsible for inspection programs of four agencies within the Inspector-General’s current jurisdiction, as well as complaints handling.
The Assistant Inspector-General Intelligence Oversight, Enabling Services and Legal Branch manages the teams responsible for engagement with four agencies in the Inspector-General’s proposed jurisdiction, two agencies within the Inspector-General’s current jurisdiction, as well as corporate, legal and policy services for the Office.
OUTCOME AND PROGRAM STRUCTURE The Office has one outcome in the 2019–20 Portfolio Budget Statement (PBS).
Our outcome is:
Independent assurance for the Prime Minister, senior Ministers and Parliament as to whether Australia’s intelligence and security agencies act legally and with propriety by inspecting, inquiring into and reporting on their activities.
The ‘Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’ is the only program identified in the PBS as contributing to this outcome.
PURPOSES The IGIS Corporate Plan 2019–20 describes the responsibilities of the Office as:
Under the IGIS Act the role of the Inspector-General is to assist Ministers in overseeing and reviewing the activities of the intelligence agencies for legality and propriety and for consistency with human rights. The Inspector-General discharges these responsibilities through a combination of inspections, inquiries and investigations into complaints.
The Inspector-General is also required to assist the Government in assuring the Parliament and the public that intelligence and security matters relating to Commonwealth agencies are open to scrutiny. Submissions to parliamentary committees and a program of public speaking are designed to address this aspect of the Inspector-General’s role, as is our policy of providing as much information about our activities as is consistent with our secrecy requirements.
Section 4 of the IGIS Act sets out the objects of the Act as: a) to assist Ministers in the oversight and review of: i. the compliance with the law by, and the propriety of particular activities of, Australian intelligence agencies; and ii. the effectiveness and appropriateness of the procedures of those agencies relating to the legality or propriety of their activities; and iii. certain other aspects of the activities and procedures of certain of those agencies; and b) to assist Ministers in ensuring that the activities of those agencies are consistent with human rights; and ba) to assist Ministers in investigating intelligence or security matters relating to Commonwealth agencies, including agencies other than intelligence agencies; and c) to allow for review of certain directions given to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) by the responsible Minister for ASIO; and d) to assist the Government in assuring the Parliament and the public that intelligence and security matters relating to Commonwealth agencies are open to scrutiny, in particular the activities and procedures of intelligence agencies.
In addition, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act) requires the Inspector-General to: receive, and where appropriate, investigate disclosures about suspected wrongdoing within the intelligence agencies; assist current or former public officials employed, or previously employed, by intelligence agencies, in relation to the operation of the PID Act; assist the intelligence agencies in meeting their responsibilities under the PID Act, including through education and awareness activities; and oversee the operation of the PID scheme in the intelligence agencies.
Under the Archives Act 1983 (Archives Act) and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), the Inspector-General may also be called on to provide expert evidence concerning national security, defence, international relations and confidential foreign government communications exemptions to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and the Australian Information Commissioner (Information Commissioner).