What is international and national security law?

National security laws keep a nation safe from threats to its government, values and existence. The field of national security law covers a broad range of areas including:

International and National Security Law

  • Counter-terrorism measures and counter-terrorism financing.
  • Espionage, treason, and sabotage.
  • Foreign influence and interference.
  • Cyber attacks.
  • Foreign incursions and recruitment.
  • Preventative detention, pre-charge detention, and post-sentencing detention orders.
  • Surveillance, telecommunications interception, and data retention.
  • Travel documents and citizenship.
  • Human rights.

Increased globalisation has led to the rise of “international security law”. This generally refers to the laws on international peace and security and covers:

  • Regulations on armed conflicts.
  • The use of force.
  • The maintenance of peace.

International security law also refers to the body of international instruments which aim to harmonise national approaches to security issues.

Some of these instruments to which Australia is a signatory include the:


Who implements Australian national security laws?

The Department of Home Affairs plays a key role in the implementation of Australia’s national security and international security obligations by bringing together the following agencies:

  • Australian Border Force (ABF).
  • Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).
  • Australian Federal Police (AFP).
  • Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC).
  • Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

These agencies have significant powers necessary to carry out their national security functions.


Examples of national security laws in Australia


Terrorism laws

Since 9/11, national security laws around the world have become increasingly focused on the suppression of terrorism and the prosecution of terrorism offences. Under Part 5.3 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), a wide range of activities could constitute a “terrorist act”.

Terrorist act offences include:

  • Committing a terrorist act,
  • Planning or preparing for a terrorist act,
  • Financing terrorism, or
  • Receiving training connected with terrorist acts.

The penalties for these offences range from three to 25 years imprisonment.


Preventative detention orders

Preventative detention orders are part of an arsenal of counter-terrorism measures. Typically, a person cannot be detained unless there are grounds to believe that they have committed an offence.

Yet, under Division 105 of the Criminal Code Act, the police can detain people under preventative detention orders when:

  • There is a threat of a terrorist attack that is capable of being carried out, and could occur within the next 14 days, and the order might prevent it, or
  • Immediately after a terrorist act if it is likely that vital evidence will be lost.


Surveillance and telecommunications interception laws

These laws are intended to protect national security and privacy by regulating the use of telecommunications data and granting surveillance powers to law enforcement for national security purposes.

The laws governing surveillance and telecommunications interception are set out under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth) and the Surveillances Devices Act 2004 (Cth).


Frequently Asked Questions

Who reviews Australia's national security laws?

National security laws must be subject to constant review to protect individual rights and liberties.

Under the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Act 2010, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) was established to review the operation, effectiveness, and implications of Australian national security laws.

However, non-government organisations and active civil liberties groups are also needed to ensure objective scrutiny of these laws.

What is the National Terrorism Threat Advisory System?

The National Terrorism Threat Advisory System is a scale of five levels that describe the likelihood of a terrorist act occurring in Australia. It is used to inform the public, and to assist Australian government leaders and officials in responding to threats.

The National Terrorism Threat Level is determined through security intelligence and is reviewed regularly.

What rights does someone have under a preventative detention order?

If a person is detained under a preventative detention order, they are still entitled to their rights. These include the right to:

  • Be treated humanely and not be subjected to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.
  • Contact a lawyer, family members, and employers.
  • Not be questioned.
  • Be told the reasons for making the order.
  • The assistance of an interpreter, if they have difficulty with English.

What is the definition of “national security”?

Under the Criminal Code Act, “national security” is defined as:

  • The defence of the country.
  • The protection of the country from:
    • Espionage,
    • Sabotage,
    • Terrorism,
    • Political violence,
    • Activities likely to interfere with the country’s defence force, or
    • Foreign interference.
  • The protection of the country’s territory and borders from serious threats.
  • The country’s political, military or economic relations with another country or other countries.

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International and National Security Law Articles