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Privacy Law and Policy Reporter

Privacy Law and Policy Reporter (PLPR)
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Greenleaf, Graham --- "Silent lines" [1995] PrivLawPRpr 89; (1995) 2(7) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 135

Silent lines

AUSTEL Privacy Advisory Committee The Protection of Customer Personal Information - Silent Line Customers, June 1995

The first report of AUSTEL's Privacy Advisory Committee (see 1 PLPR 159, 179 for composition) concludes that 'in general terms the carriers have in place satisfactory policies supported by adequate procedures to ensure an appropriate level of protection for silent line customer personal information'. No significant change is needed. However, the PAC intends to review the effect on silent lines of the use of random and sequential automatic diallers, in a general review of telemarketing.

The report is valuable in explaining the current protections to private lines. Telstra has tightened its security considerably since the ICAC disclosures of trade in personal information. Some silent line customers get a higher level of security than others, in the form of PIN number access to their numbers. Difficult issues such as credit default listings in relation to silent lines are discussed. Very few complaints about the operation of silent lines are received. Telstra has approximately 800,000 silent line customers (about 16 per cent of city customers, 12 per cent of country ones), who pay $32 annually for the service. Carriers of mobile phone accounts are not permitted to disclose directory listings to Telstra for inclusion in the White Pages unless a customer so requests, so (as the Committee notes), such disclosure of personal information is on an 'opt in' rather than 'opt out' basis.

The PAC has also indicated its intention to consolidate all its work on protection of customer personal information into a set of generic privacy guidelines for the telecommunications industry, applicable to carriers and service providers alike. At present, there is less protection for information held by service providers than by carriers.

Comment - who pays for privacy?

One important privacy question that the report does not ask is 'why do you have to pay more for a private line?' The carriers clearly regard the non-disclosure of a subscriber's personal information (their phone number) as a privilege for which subscribers can legitimately be required to pay. In contrast, consider Principle 18 of the Australian Privacy Charter: 'People should not have to pay in order to exercise their rights of privacy [including non-disclosure of personal information] nor be denied goods or services or offered them on a less preferential basis. The provision of reasonable facilities for the exercise of privacy rights should be a normal operating cost.' (see 2 PLPR 44).

The carriers clearly wish to discourage people from opting out of being in the White Pages, but should they have a right to do so by differential charging? Why shouldn't the position with mobile carriers be the norm? The Committee's misconceptions are clear from its references to 'the silent line product'. You sell 'products', not rights.

AUSTEL's Committee will have to ask a few of the hard questions before its value is clear.

Graham Greenleaf

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