New rules to reduce unwelcome communications to helplines | ACMA

New rules to reduce unwelcome communications to helplines

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Under new arrangements in place from today, phone companies will be able to suspend services to people who repeatedly make unwelcome calls—whether they are offensive, harassing or simply a nuisance—to helplines such as Lifeline. The power will kick in if an initial warning is not heeded.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has registered a new version of the Communications Alliance Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code (the code). A review of the code identified a need for specific rules for phone companies to follow when dealing with unwelcome calls made to helplines.

‘Helplines provide the community with crucial support in times of distress,’ said acting ACMA Chairman, Richard Bean. ‘The revised code recognises that services provided to the community by helplines are often time-critical and unwelcome calls can delay their ability to respond to genuine callers.

‘These calls can also affect the call-takers, who are often volunteers,’ he added. ‘The tougher regime introduced by the code sends a strong message that unwelcome calls to helplines will not be tolerated.

‘I thank phone companies for working with Lifeline Australia and law enforcement agencies in developing the new arrangements, and for their commitment to reduce unwelcome communications carried on their networks,’ Richard Bean said.

Lifeline Australia CEO Pete Shmigel welcomed the new version of the code, saying the national charity’s highest priority was supporting its volunteer workforce of more than 4,000 Crisis Supporters.

‘Our highly skilled and compassionate volunteers are on the frontline of Australia’s suicide emergency,’ Mr Shmigel said. ‘The new code will allow them to do more of what they do best—providing caring and non-judgemental support to Australians in crisis and sparing countless individuals, families and whole communities the profound heartache of losing someone to suicide.’

For 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/gethelp.

For more information see the backgrounder below, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Media release 3/2017 - 1 March

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Backgrounder

The code sets out obligations on carriers, carriage service providers, electronic message service providers and the National Relay Service provider in responding to requests from police, helplines and their individual customers to deal with life-threatening and unwelcome communications.

The procedures set out in the code require suppliers to deal with life-threatening or unwelcome communications in an efficient, coordinated and expedient manner. This can include activating communications traces on services and disconnecting services used by people who continue to make unwelcome communications despite being warned by their supplier.

First registered by the ACMA in 1999, the revised code is its seventh edition. It contains a number of changes from the previous version, the most important of which addresses the harm unwelcome communications can cause to helplines, defined in the code as:
… an organisation that uses a Carriage Service to provide listening, emotional support and/or advice to anyone in emotional distress, in an individual, family or psycho-social crisis, who is asking for support, and could be feeling lonely, isolated, unhappy, frightened, worried, in shock or suicidal.

In Australia, using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence is a serious offence under the Criminal Code Act 1995. Telephone companies have found that in most cases the issue of unwelcome communications can be satisfactorily resolved without recourse to police by following the code rules.

Last updated: 01 March 2017