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Telstra pays $2.5 million penalty for customer privacy and public safety failures


Telstra Corporation Limited has paid an infringement notice of $2.53 million after the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found large-scale breaches of rules intended to protect the privacy and safety of customers.

The ACMA investigation found almost 50,000 instances where Telstra failed to correctly upload a customer’s choice of an unlisted - or silent - number to the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) meaning these numbers could be published in public phone directories or be available through directory services.

The ACMA also found that Telstra failed to provide data to, or failed to update, the IPND for its Belong customers on over 65,000 occasions.

The IPND is made up of Australian phone numbers and their owner details, is used by public phone directories, and provides an important resource to support the work of Australia’s emergency services, law enforcement and national security agencies.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said that by failing to provide the required information to the IPND, Telstra potentially put people’s safety at risk.

“When people request a silent number it is often for very important privacy and safety reasons, and we know that the publication of their details can have serious consequences.

The IPND is also used by Triple Zero to help locate people in an emergency, for the Emergency Alert Service to warn of emergencies like flood or bushfire, and to assist law enforcement activities.

“The provision of these critical services can be hampered and lives put in danger if data is missing, wrong or out of date. It is alarming that Telstra could get this so wrong on such a large scale,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

The ACMA’s action follows findings in 2019 that Telstra had breached the same obligations.

“Telstra initially self-reported these matters and moved quickly to fix them. However, this is not Telstra’s only recent major breach of these rules, which is why the ACMA has taken  this action,” added Ms O’Loughlin.

All telcos are required to upload customer information into the IPND for each service they provide. This includes the telephone number, the customer’s name and address and whether the customer wants their number of be listed or unlisted. Flagging a number as listed or unlisted determines whether a customer’s details are available in public phone directories and directory assistance services.

This is the latest action in the ACMA’s ongoing campaign to improve the accuracy of the IPND and reduce the risk of harm to Australians. In 2018 and 2020 the ACMA took action against a total of 26 telcos for non-compliance with upload rules, including giving remedial directions. Earlier this year the ACMA gave Lycamobile a $600,000 penalty for breaching the rules.

If Telstra fails to comply with its obligations in future the ACMA can commence proceedings in the Federal Court for civil penalties of up to $10 million per contravention.

MR 33/2021

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