A government proposal to reduce privacy regulations on telecom carriers has met with resistance from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
As part of a package of deregulatory measures earmarked for the government's second 'repeal day' slated for September or October, the Department of Communications has proposed removing privacy rules found in Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act.
The government had reasoned that the new Privacy Act, covering all industries, has rendered the telco-specific privacy rules in the Telecommunications Act unnecessary.
"Repealing Part 13 would remove compliance and record-keeping obligations on industry, while the Privacy Act would maintain strong consumer protections," the department said.
However, ACCAN said in its submission to the proposal that the Privacy Act has a smaller scope than Part 13 and telecom consumers would be less protected if Part 13 was simply repealed. ACCAN said it would support a repeal only after key provisions of Part 13 are added to the Privacy Act.
"There may be overlaps and duplication of regulation where rationalisation would benefit all Stakeholders," ACCAN wrote. "However, the review is complex, and must include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the new Act in order to result in no overall diminution of privacy protections for the Australian community.
"Abolishing Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act and incorporating an industry-specific section in the Privacy Act would ensure other important differences between the two Acts are not lost, while at the same time producing one coherent reference point for telecommunication service providers."
ACCAN gave several examples of areas where the Privacy Act provides weaker protections for telecom customers than the Part 13 rules.
"The Privacy Act covers personal information, it does not cover statistical data or metadata," ACCAN wrote. "There is evidence that metadata can be highly intrusive, and reveal a significant amount of information about a person's identity."
Also, the Privacy Act applies to entities but not to employees, and only indirectly to contractors, ACCAN said. "By contrast, Part 13 applies directly to all organisations and individuals handling telecommunications information, so [it] has a broader scope."
And while Part 13 applies to all telecom providers, the Privacy Act would not cover telcos with less than $3 million in turnover, it said.
ACCAN disagrees with Optus objections
ACCAN supported a proposal to remove a requirement under Part 17 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 for telcos delivering standard (non-cellular) telephone services to allow customers to select different providers for long distance and international calls, and calls from fixed services to mobile phones.
The Department of Communications had proposed limiting this requirement to services delivered over the legacy copper network.
Optus had objected to the proposal, saying in its submission that pre-selection will remain important as long as Telstra is the only telco with national infrastructure to deliver fixed telephone services.
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