71.1 Telecommunications service providers handle personal information about their customers in order to supply them with services such as landline telephone services, mobile telephone services and internet services. Before the introduction of the private sector provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), the use and disclosure of information collected and held by telecommunications service providers was regulated by industry-specific legislation and instruments. Since the introduction of the private sector provisions, however, the handling of personal information by telecommunications service providers is governed by both the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth)and the Privacy Act, as well as other industry-specific instruments, such as licences and codes.
71.2 A number of recent inquiries have considered the interaction between telecommunications industry-specific regulation and the Privacy Act. In 2005, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) considered this interaction as part of its review of the private sector provisions of the Privacy Act (OPC Review). The OPC’s recommendations on this issue are discussed throughout this chapter.
71.3 In 2005, the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee recommended that the ALRC conduct a comprehensive review of privacy that considered, among other things, the interaction between the Privacy Act and the Telecommunications Act. In addition, in 2006, a review of the regulation of business in Australia concluded that the need to clarify and harmonise the relationship between the Privacy Act and the Telecommunications Act should be considered as part of a wider review of privacy laws.
71.4 On 8 May 2006, the ALRC received a letter from the then Attorney-General, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, stating that it would be desirable for the ALRC to consider the interaction between the Privacy Act and the Telecommunications Act during the course of this Inquiry.
71.5 This chapter first considers the provisions of the Telecommunications Act and how they interact with the Privacy Act. The next section examines whether telecommunications-specific privacy legislation is still required. The chapter then looks at whether the Telecommunications Act provides adequate protection of personal information. This latter section of the chapter considers the regulatory gap caused by the small business exemption; the impact of new privacy-invasive technologies; and whether a contravention of Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act should attract a civil or criminal penalty. The final section of the chapter considers the role of the OPC and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) under the Telecommunications Act.
71.6 Chapter 72 also considers whether the Telecommunications Act provides adequate protection of personal information, and focuses on the exceptions to the use and disclosure offences and the protection of personal information held on public number directories.
71.7 Chapter 73 considers the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth), the Spam Act 2003 (Cth), and the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (Cth), as well as the functions of the various bodies with responsibility for privacy in the telecommunications industry. The privacy of internet users and users of wireless technologies is discussed more generally in Chapter 11.
Telecommunications Act 1991 (Cth) s 88; Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) pt 13.
 Australian Communications Industry Forum, Industry Code—Protection of Personal Information of Customers of Telecommunications Providers, ACIF C523 (1999) (deregistered on 29 Oct 2001); Carrier Licence Conditions (Telstra Corporation Limited) Declaration 1997.
 Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Getting in on the Act: The Review of the Private Sector Provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 (2005).
 Parliament of Australia—Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee, The Real Big Brother: Inquiry into the Privacy Act 1988 (2005), recs 1, 9.
 Regulation Taskforce 2006, Rethinking Regulation: Report of the Taskforce on Reducing Regulatory Burdens on Business, Report to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (2006), rec 4.48.