IGIS still calling for more staff to provide oversight of ASIO's encryption-busting powers

This is in addition to the extra personnel that would be required if the Inspector-General of Security's jurisdiction expanded to four more intelligence agencies.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australia's Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), currently Margaret Stone, has told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) that additional resources are still required to conduct its current remit.

The IGIS was stood up to ensure the legality and propriety of the Australian intelligence community's actions.

The officer holder is charged with reviewing the activities of six Commonwealth intelligence agencies: The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Signals Directorate, Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, the Defence Intelligence organisation, and the Office of National Intelligence.

Under its remit is oversight of how ASIO uses its powers under the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 (TOLA Act).

Stone, providing testimony to the committee for the last time before her retirement, said an additional five personnel are currently required to handle the workload that has arisen out of the TOLA Act.

She provided similar calls last year in a submission to the PJCIS.

Stone said currently, IGIS' TOLA responsibilities are taking up a lot of the organisation's time.

"As the committee knows even better than we do, the time involved in dealing with those is very significant and that suggestion as to what's required is our best estimate, it's a little bit better than a guess, but its an estimate, of what we would require," she said.

With IGIS oversight to potentially be expanded to four more agencies that are considered as part of the intelligence community -- the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Home Affairs, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission -- its workload would also significantly increase.

"If our jurisdiction was extended to those four agencies, then I think we would need this extra assistance, in addition to what we have for those four agencies," Stone said. "We're able to manage at the moment because there has been no final division on that jurisdiction."

Currently, Stone said IGIS is meeting its needs temporarily by using existing resources. She agreed with Labor MP Kristina Keneally's summary that setting aside whether or not IGIS does receive additional jurisdiction, the office cannot sustain the demand of its current legislative oversight roles.

"I think that's right, because I think one needs to remember that the additional legislation with which we're all aware, not only expands the scope of what we do, but in order oversee activities carried out under that legislation, it requires additional depth of investigation and it will also depend on usage by the agencies," Stone said.

"So there are some unknowns and some knowns.

"With the increasing technical requirements for oversight, we will, for instance, need more technically competent or expert staff, we've got technically competent staff, but we will need more expertise than we presently have."

Stone was appointed as IGIS on 24 August 2015 and her replacement is yet to be announced.


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