ASIO's detention powers a 'step too far'

File image. Source: AAP

Australia's security law watchdog has called on the government to repeal laws that give ASIO the power to question and detain people over terrorism offences.

The federal government is being urged to abolish counter-terrorism powers that allow Australia's intelligence agency to detain and coercively question people.

While ASIO has never sought or used them, the country's security law watchdog believes they are not proportionate to the threat of terrorism and unnecessary.

"It is time to accept that the capacity to secretly and immediately detain persons whether or not they are implicated in terrorism is a step too far," former judge Roger Gyles QC said in the latest Independent National Security Legislation Monitor report, tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

The measure was proposed in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and introduced in 2003 amid much controversy.

It had an initial 2006 sunset date but has been successively extended.

Mr Gyles recommends the "extraordinary" power be repealed or cease when the current sunset period ends in September 2018.

He believes it's not necessary to prevent or disrupt a terrorist act, given other powers at ASIO's disposal.

No precedent in any comparable country has been identified, the report said.

ASIO, however, wants the power to remain and be used if necessary.

It's the second time the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor has called for the law be repealed.

The review also recommends that a 10-day outer limit be applied to the period someone can be detained without charge on suspicion of having committed a Commonwealth offence under the Crimes Act.

In addition, the initial investigation period (and thus, detention) should be raised from four to eight hours.

The complexity of current laws means a person who is under arrest for a terrorism offence can be detained without charge for an "indeterminate amount of time".

In one recent case, a person was detained for a total approximate time of 201 hours because of considerable 'dead time' - time that is not considered part of the investigation period.

"Indefinite detention has the potential for oppression," Mr Gyles said.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the federal government is carefully considering the report's recommendations.

"The government will continue to ensure our national security agencies have the powers they need to keep Australians safe while protecting our freedoms," he said in a statement.

Source AAP

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