Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Privacy issues were one aspect of a wider range of complaints (mainly concerning chronic line faults that remained unremedied despite persistent complaints) by the ''Casualties of Telecom' (COT) group against Telecom, which were investigated by AUSTEL under the Telecommunications Act 1991 (Cth),s335(1).
AUSTEL found that Telecom was in breach of its own policies and procedures in failing to obtain the ''express approval' of four of its customers to undertake voice monitoring or recording of their services.
AUSTEL recommended that Telecom should: (a) give effect to its Privacy Protection Policy and its (revised) Guidelines on Voice Monitoring (see Legislation & Guidelines this issue); (b) inform its customers by way of a bill insert of its voice monitoring practices; (c) formally apologise to three of the four complainants (the other had received an apology); and (d) reinforce policies and procedures by training staff.
AUSTEL did not make any findings concerning related allegations by two of the four complainants referred to above, and other complainants (''the original COT cases') that Telecom undertook voice monitoring/recording at a time during which they were engaged in settlement negotiations with Telecom, because these matters are at present the subject of an investigation by the Australian Federal Police to determine whether Telecom or its employees may have committed offences under the Telecommunications Interception Act 1979 (Cth)
After the AUSTEL Report was released, W F Blount, chief executive officer of Telecom stated in full-page newspaper advertisements, ''There have also been allegations that we inappropriately monitored telephone calls. In a few isolated instances certain employees of this company may have failed to comply with our policy on voice monitoring. But they did so trying to find faults that were affecting customers' lines. We have apologised to the customers concerned, including those referred to in the AUSTEL report, and developed in conjunction with the Privacy Commissioner and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman more stringent guidelines on voice monitoring, reflecting current community standards. From my extensive experience in the industry, I believe no telecommunications company in the world has more stringent guidelines on customer privacy.' This and other comments in the advertisements prompted Peter Smark in the Sydney Morning Herald to award Telecom the 'Golden Rhino Award for Hide of the Week'.