Countering Terrorism

The New South Wales (NSW) Police Force is committed to engaging with the community on counter terrorism issues.

As the lead agency for counter terrorism in NSW, the police are keen to improve police understanding of community concerns relating to the terrorism powers, and to increase community understanding of the terrorism arrangements in NSW.

Alert Level

National Terrorism Threat Advisory System

Australia's current National Terrorism Threat Level is PROBABLE.
Alert level chart

The National Terrorism Threat Advisory System is a scale of five levels to provide advice about the likelihood of an act of terrorism occurring in Australia:

When the threat level changes, the Australian Government provides advice on what the threat level means, where the threat is coming from, potential targets and how a terrorist act may be carried out.

The National Terrorism Threat Level is regularly reviewed in line with the security environment and intelligence.

It is important to be aware of the current threat level and to report any suspicious incidents to the National Security Hotline on 1800 1234 00.

Public advice

The National Terrorism Threat Level for Australia is PROBABLE. Credible intelligence, assessed by our security agencies indicates that individuals or groups have developed both the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia. The public should continue to exercise caution and report any suspicious incidents to the National Security Hotline by calling 1800 1234 00. Life-threatening situations should be reported to the police by calling Triple Zero (000).

We must maintain vigilance in the face of an escalating global terrorist threat that continues to affect Australia. This multifaceted threat was the reason the Commonwealth Government took the unprecedented step of raising the national terrorism threat level in September 2014. The factors that underpinned that decision persist, and some have worsened. Those who wish to do us harm, some located here and some overseas, continue to view Australia as a legitimate target.

Where does the threat come from?

A small number of people in Australia adhere to an interpretation of Islam that is selective, violent and extreme. They are influenced by extreme messaging from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who are active online spreading their violent ideology and channelling persuasive propaganda to susceptible, vulnerable and easily influenced individuals.

The radicalisation and recruitment of Australians is increasing. Violent extremists are reaching out to those willing to listen and encouraging them either to join ISIL or conduct attacks in its name. In some cases specific directions have been provided to conduct acts of terrorism here. Others, including those that are not in direct contact with violent extremists overseas, may be influenced by propaganda to undertake acts of terrorism in Australia. Those radicalised to violent extremism may display behavioural changes, develop new social networks and associations, withdraw from previous ones and promote an extremist ideology.

Recent large, coordinated terrorist attacks are concerning and the small number of Australia-based ISIL sympathisers and supporters might be emboldened by the perceived success of their overseas counterparts. Additionally, ISIL will glorify recent attacks, such as those in France and Mali and the attack on Metrojet Flight 9268, in propaganda to motivate and inspire their Western-based sympathisers and supporters. Elements of some of these recent attacks, such as the use of firearms and explosives as weapons, the capturing of hostages, and the focus on 'soft' targets, could be employed in an attack in Australia.

What are the likely targets?

Symbols of government and authorities perceived as terrorist adversaries, such as the military, police and security agencies, are often targeted by terrorists. However, indiscriminate attacks are increasing, and the risk to the general public in Australia remains. Overseas extremists have encouraged local sympathisers and supporters to attack the public anywhere—attacks and plots in Europe and Africa in late 2015 targeting the public underscore this threat. Attacks of this nature are designed to cause injury or death and are aimed at disrupting our lives and damaging the nation by causing fear. This is why it is important for the public to maintain a level of awareness and to report any suspicious activity immediately to authorities.

How would an attack occur?

The most likely form for a terrorist attack in Australia would be an attack by an individual or a small group of like-minded individuals. However, a larger, more coordinated attack cannot be ruled out. Threats can develop quickly, moving to an act of violence with little preparation or planning.

It is highly likely that a terrorist attack in Australia would use weapons and tactics that are low-cost and relatively simple, including basic weapons, explosives and/or firearms. These are commonly used in terrorist attacks overseas and featured in the September 2014 attack on police officers in Melbourne, the December 2014 Martin Place siege in Sydney and the fatal shooting outside New South Wales Police headquarters in Parramatta in October 2015.

  • Basic weapons are readily available, everyday objects that do not require specialist skills. Terrorists have used basic weapons such as knives, machetes and even cars to conduct lethal attacks.
  • Explosives remain a favoured terrorist weapon globally. Homemade explosives can be manufactured from readily available materials. Improvised explosive devices do not need to be large to be effective and can be easily concealed.
  • Firearms can be sourced through legal and illicit channels.

Our response

Federal, state and territory governments continue to focus on strengthening preventative efforts in partnership with industry and building Australia’s social cohesion, together with the community.

  • Governments are working closely with communities to prevent terrorism, combat terrorist propaganda online and promote early intervention programmes.
  • Federal, state and territory authorities have well-tested cooperative arrangements in place and have adopted appropriate security measures.
  • Police and security agencies liaise closely with critical infrastructure owners and operators.

In the current environment, Australians should go about their daily business as usual but should exercise caution and be aware of events immediately around them.

If you see, hear or become aware of something suspicious or unusual, call the National Security Hotline on 1800 1234 00. Every call is important and could prevent a terrorist attack in Australia.

How can I get more information about security in NSW as a result of the raised Alert Level?

The NSW Police Facebook page will carry regular updates every time fresh information comes to hand. You can "like" the NSW Police Facebook page at:

There are a number of very good sources of information. The secureNSW website is specifically dedicated to security issues:

Secure NSW

NSW Police Force Facebook page

NSW Police Force Engagement Intervention Unit

The NSW Police Force Engagement Intervention Unit engages with community groups on terrorism related issues. The unit aims to increase community awareness of counter terrorism arrangements and to build police understanding of their impacts on the community. In addition, there are other NSW Police Force programs in place to encourage tolerance and mutual respect such as the community liaison officers in local area police offices.

Facial Recognition

NSW Police Force and Facial recognition

NSW Police Force (NSWPF) uses a range of operational tactics and technologies to prevent, disrupt, investigate and respond to serious and violent crime and help keep communities safe. One valuable tool is facial recognition technology (FR).

Criminal organisations are taking advantage of new and emerging technologies, and in response, are developing new ways to commit crime, particularly identity related crime.

According to research by the Australian Institute of Criminology, identity crime will impact around 1 in 4 Australians over their lifetime and it is estimated to cost more than $3.1 billion annually to the economy. Identity crime is also a key enabler of serious and organised crime, which according to the governments National Strategy to Fight Transnational, Serious and Organised Crime (2018), has an estimated annual cost to Australia of $47 billion.

As technology changes, policing needs to change with it and FR allows law enforcement to proactively and quickly respond to these emerging threats.

What is facial recognition technology?

FR is a term used for any technology that compares one photo with another to identify a person or confirm their identity.  There are many kinds of FR and many ways to use the technology, but essentially, they all help identify a person from a digital image.

FR maps facial features from a photo. It reads the geometry of a face and develops a numerical template to coincide with measurements between facial features (distance between eyes, width of nose etc). This creates a unique facial signature. This template is then compared to photographic information stored in a database to find a match.

Responsible use of facial recognition technology

NSWPF is committed to using FR responsibly, balancing the requirements of relevant legislation and operational policing objectives with the interests of the community. This includes the rights and privacy of individuals. In balancing these interests, NSWPF aims to promote ethical, legal and professional practices across all of its policing techniques.

We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of your personal information in accordance with the Privacy and Personal Information Act 1998 (NSW) and the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).

NSWPF has also established an internal governance structure to ensure the responsible, ethical and lawful use of FR.

How does NSWPF use facial recognition technology?

NSWPF uses different FR systems to prevent, disrupt and investigate crime. These resources can be used to protect the public by:

  • assisting investigators to identify persons of interest by comparing their image, possibly taken from CCTV with a catalogue of images of individuals charged with criminal offences;
  • supporting investigators to enhance national security, combat terrorism and identity crime;
  • identify individuals who are at risk, including investigating missing persons or in relation to a disaster event;
  • investigating other serious criminal activity, such as organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, people smuggling and child exploitation.

FR supports normal investigative methods by automating existing policing functions – It does NOT replace them. There is no substitute for a human using their judgement and training to manually review suggestions made by FR tools to identify unknown persons and respond appropriately.

Once a potential identification has been made using FR, it is assessed by a specialist facial recognition examiner. Police then use traditional law enforcement techniques to confirm whether the individual is in fact a person of interest in relation to the investigation.

NSWPF has an existing catalogue of “charge” photos. These are photos of people that have previously been in police custody and have been charged with an offence. Police use FR to compare a photo of an unknown suspect with the charge photos on file to see if there is a match.

This system can produce leads for investigators. It can also create photographic line-ups and photo boards that can be shown to a witness or victim to help with faster suspect identification.

How are law enforcement agencies across Australia working together to protect you?

NSWPF is working with the Commonwealth and other law enforcement agencies to protect Australians from identity crime and stay one step ahead of those that threaten our community and undermine Australia’s identity checking processes.

All Australian governments have agreed to participate in the Face Matching Services (FMS) that enable Australian law enforcement, intelligence and anti-corruption agencies to work better together to investigate serious crime. The FMS will also protect Australians from identity crime by helping people to verify their identity in a way that is fast, secure and private.

The FMS use the latest facial recognition technology to compare photos against existing government-issued documents with photographic information, for example immigration visas or passports.

To keep this information safe, there is no single database that will hold all images available via the FMS. Instead, a central hub will allow agencies to exchange information without storing any personal information. This will allow for better audit, oversight, and accountability mechanisms.

Specialist NSWPF officers are conducting a limited (low volume) trial of FMS to test the system and evaluate the privacy, security and accountability safeguards that are in place. Lessons learned will also be shared with Australian jurisdictions.

More information on the Commonwealth FMS is available on the IDMatch website at

Frequently Asked Questions:

How is my privacy protected?

NSWPF is committed to making sure that citizen’s privacy is protected and that personal information is secure against hacking or misuse.

NSWPPF has a Privacy Management Plan that sets out legal obligations and responsibilities to respect the privacy rights of members of the public. You can read the plan here.

NSWPF’s privacy framework for use of the FMS system has been independently evaluated to ensure NSW can implement best practice safeguards for the use of this technology. We are constantly evaluating our relevant policies and procedures to ensure best practice and security.

For information on how the FMS protect privacy, a Privacy Statement is published on the IDMatch website. You can find the statement here.

The NSW Government has also committed to protecting citizen’s personal information, and enhancing identity security, in its NSW Identity Strategy. To learn more about the Strategy, you can visit the NSW Identity Strategy Government website here.

How accurate is facial recognition technology?

FR used by NSWPF has a high standard of accuracy and the accuracy of the technology available is improving year by year. However, we do not rely on the accuracy of the technology alone, and always use FR in combination with human expertise.

Results from a facial recognition search are assessed by a face matching examiner. FR is never the only tool used to conclusively identify a person. Police are trained to understand that FR does not provide a definitive answer about the identity of persons of interest or victims. The results of a search must always be combined with other information available to Police, before a positive identification is made.

Can Commonwealth Face Matching Services be used for mass surveillance?

No. Face Matching Services (FMS) are not permitted to be used as a mass surveillance tool, and it does not accept video (live or recorded) as the basis for any search. Only static photos can be submitted for a search. FMS are not linked to CCTV cameras.

How does the Commonwealth Face Matching Services use my personal information?

Facial images that a NSW Government agency may have collected from you, such as a driver licence photograph, will in future be made available to other Australian Government agencies via the FMS.

Importantly, facial images from NSW Government agencies have not yet been made available to the Commonwealth Government for use via the FMS. Facial images of NSW citizens will not be made available via the FMS until the NSW Government is satisfied that appropriate privacy and security safeguards are in place.

In the meantime, specialist NSWPF officers have limited access to the FMS using facial images from Commonwealth agencies. The NSWPF is using the limited access to test the system and evaluate the privacy, security and accountability safeguards, in anticipation of facial images collected by NSW Government agencies being made available via the FMS to other law enforcement agencies.   

Can I opt-out of Commonwealth Face Matching Services?

No, you cannot decide to have your images excluded from the system. An opt-out system would allow criminals to opt out and avoid being identified.

How is data protected in Commonwealth Face Matching Services?

Commonwealth FMS are assessed and accredited in accordance with the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Information Security Manual, and the Commonwealth’s Protective Security Policy Framework. The systems also use encryption and authorisation procedures approved by the Australian Signals Directorate to ensure data protection, security and confidentiality. More information is available on the Commonwealth website IDMatch here.

Useful Links

NSW Government countering terrorism in NSW - Secure NSW

National Security Hotline - 1800 123 400.