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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter (PLPR)
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Greenleaf, Graham --- "Guidelines on Voice Monitoring or Recording of Telephone Services" [1994] PrivLawPRpr 40; (1994) 1(3) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 55


Telecom (Australia), released by Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, 29 April 1994

As part of the resolution of the COT complaints (see Cases & Complaints this issue) Telecom agreed to external participation in a review of its policies on voice monitoring and recording of telephone services. The Guidelines were settled between Telecom and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), who consulted with the Privacy Commissioner, Law Council of Australia and consumer groups. The Telecommunications Interception Act 1979 (Cth), s7(1) generally prohibits interception of communications passing over telecommunications systems, but makes an exception for:

''an act or thing done by an employee of a carrier in the course of his duties for or in connection with the installation of any line, or the installation of any equipment, used or intended for use in connection with the telecommunication service or the operation or maintenance of the telecommunication system; ... the interception of a communication of another person lawfully engaged in duties relating to the installation, connection or maintenance of equipment or a line.'

Telecom and other carriers therefore have a very broad exception from the normal prohibition on interception in connection with system operation and maintenance. The Guidelines are directed to carrier employees to govern employee conduct pursuant to these exceptions.

The policy does not deal with call charge analysis equipment (CCAE) or calling line identification (CLI) for monitoring service usage, or monitoring or interception for law enforcement purposes, or transactions involving credit card payments by telephone.

The main elements of the Guidelines are:

  1. ''Installation/connection/operation/maintenance activities Monitoring is permitted for the purpose of ensuring that a connection has been made, that service quality is adequate and where it occurs incidentally in the operation, maintenance and installation, and or connection of a service or a system'. In these cases business units must ensure compliance with company privacy policy and our legislative obligations. ''The elements that would need to be specifically covered include that any monitoring is either random or brief ... and that any information obtained incidentally by such monitoring should not be retained or disclosed by an employee.'
  2. Monitoring or recording ''in response to a customer complaint' Monitoring or recording for fault detection is only permitted if (a) written consent of the customer whose line is monitored is obtained, on a prescribed ''request to undertake call monitoring' form; (b) an authorised employee must approve the proposed monitoring; (c) pip-tones must be used so as to alert the other party to any calls that are monitored. Calls are only to be recorded where the customer requests (an option on the request form), a higher level of approval is required, and there are security arrangements for destruction and non- transcription of tapes.
  3. Observance of the Guidelines will be monitored by an independent audit process (as part of the Telecom Privacy Protection Policy) and an annual report made public.


In his Press Release the TIO stated that ''the guidelines should enjoy support including that of the other main carriers Optus and Vodaphone who were also consulted'. The Minster for Communications, Michael Lee, also made a ministerial statement in Parliament on March 25 that he considered that all carriers should adopt such policies, and should also have a ''regular, independent compliance audit'.

Mr Lee also stated ''I will also be examining options for further tightening customer privacy safeguards possibly by including appropriate requirements in telecommunications carrier licences, through legislation or through the introduction of an industry code of practice supervised by an independent authority such as the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.'

Graham Greenleaf

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