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ASIO is a statutory body with functions established by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979.

The ASIO Act sets out our role to collect and assess intelligence relevant to security, communicate this intelligence to relevant parties, produce security assessments, and obtain foreign intelligence within Australia. It also defines security for the purposes of ASIO’s work—and in doing so limits the scope of our activities.

The Act sets out what security means in the context of ASIO’s functions. These are commonly referred to as the ‘heads of security’ and include the protection of the Commonwealth and its people from espionage and acts of foreign interference, acts of sabotage, politically motivated violence including terrorism, acts which promote communal violence and serious threats to Australia’s borders.

Under section 8A of the Act, ASIO must conduct our security intelligence activities in accordance with ministerial guidelines. These guidelines stipulate that we must conduct our activities in a lawful, timely and efficient manner, while applying the principle of proportionality to ensure the least intrusion necessary into an individual’s privacy. 

The ASIO Act also establishes ASIO’s special powers allowing us to use methods which would otherwise be illegal, to investigate and collect intelligence on serious threats to Australia’s security.

ASIO’s work is also governed by many other pieces of legislation including the Telecommunications (Intercept and Access) Act 1997 and the Intelligence Services Act 2001.