There are a number of privacy issues in telecommunications including:
- disclosure of unlisted numbers
- nuisance calls
- unwanted telemarketing calls
- calling number displays
- recording of telephone calls without consent
Privacy in telecommunications, and the handling of personal information, is covered by three main pieces of legislation:
Disclosure of unlisted numbers
An unlisted number increases your privacy. Customer information for an unlisted number is:
- not published in print or electronic phone directories
- not available through operator-assisted directory services such as 1223
Having an unlisted number may not prevent you from receiving unwanted calls. Some organisations use random dialling techniques to conduct telemarketing campaigns.
Disclosing your unlisted number on application forms and competition entries or to business and trades people would allow your number to be disclosed to others.
Disclosure of information for billing purposes
If you or a household member uses another telephone company or makes calls to 190 information services carried by another company, your usual telephone company is obliged to provide sufficient information to the other company for billing purposes. This applies to both listed and unlisted numbers. The second company must protect your unlisted number when handling your information.
Dealing with life threatening or unwelcome communications
Matters involving an imminent threat to a person's life or health should be reported directly to police using the emergency call service.
For more information see: Dealing with unwanted or life threatening communications.
Recorded telephone conversations
When monitoring is necessary, strict guidelines must be followed to protect customer privacy. These guidelines have been developed by, and are available from, the Communications Alliance Ltd. If you need more information about this monitoring, contact the telephone company providing your service.
The regulation for recording of telephone conversations is complex and is the responsibility of the federal Attorney-General's Department.
Unwanted telemarketing calls
Telemarketing is the practice of calling potential customers to sell services or products, or to conduct fundraising, polling or market research.
Registering your number on the Do Not Call Register will prevent you receiving certain telemarketing calls.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) manages compliance with the register.
It is free to place your number on the register. A number is eligible to be registered if it is used:
- primarily for domestic purposes
- for transmitting and/or receiving faxes
- exclusively by a government body
- as an emergency services number
Registration may take up to 30 days to take effect.
Generally it is against the law to make unsolicited calls to a telephone number listed on the register. This is subject to some limited exemptions.
The ACMA has also determined a national industry standard for telemarketing and research calls. Together, the register and industry standard are designed to regulate unsolicited calls in Australia.
If you receive unsolicited telemarketing calls after registering your number, you can lodge a complaint via the online complaint form at www.donotcall.gov.au or by calling 1300 792 958.
The ACMA has also produced a number of information sheets covering various aspects of the register.
Calling number display
Calling number display (CND) is a service that enables you to view the number of an incoming caller displayed on compatible handsets or CND units attached to the phone.
Emergency call services and privacy
Special arrangements apply to disclosing your telephone number in relation to calls made to the Triple Zero '000' emergency call service. Your details will be made available to the emergency call service operator and the emergency service organisation where it is available, regardless of whether you have an unlisted number. This allows the operator to contact the most appropriate emergency service organisation, confirm the location of the emergency and ring you back if the connection is broken.
The complaint process
If you believe your privacy has been breached by a telephone company, the first step is to try to resolve the matter with the telephone company concerned.
If the matter is not resolved, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).
The TIO provides its services free of charge to consumers who are not satisfied after initially taking up the problem with their telephone company.
Tel: 1800 062 058 or (03) 8600 8700TTY: 1800 675 692
There is also an ACMA fact sheet