Voice over Internet Protocol

9.79 Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) enables spoken conversations to be conducted in real time over the internet.[162] It is a subset of technology referred to as ‘IP Telephony’, which enables facsimile messages, video and other forms of data traditionally transmitted via the PSTN to be transmitted via the internet. IP telephony also enables the transmission of television and radio services.

9.80 VoIP technology transmits the sound waves of speech via the internet in the form of IP data packets.[163] It enables users to avoid the costs of communicating over long distances that are often incurred with traditional telecommunications carriers. It also enables users to encrypt telephone conversations and conduct telephone conversations with groups of people. VoIP technology can offer a variety of services, including ‘peer-to-peer services’—that is, services that are isolated from the traditional PSTN. These allow users to make and receive calls only over the internet.[164] Alternatively, VoIP technology can offer ‘any-to-any connectivity’ services, allowing users to make and receive calls to and from any telephone number.[165]

9.81 VoIP services usually will be classified as carriage services for the purposes of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth).[166] This means that VoIP service providers generally will be ‘carriage service providers’ that are required to observe the provisions in Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act that protect the confidentiality of telecommunications information. These provisions are discussed in Part J. If, however, a VoIP service does not connect with the PSTN at all, the service provider may not be regulated by the Telecommunications Act but may be regulated by the Privacy Act.[167]

9.82 A concern that has arisen in relation to VoIP technology is that Australians may access VoIP services from providers outside Australia.[168] This may impact on the standards of protection for personal information disclosed during a VoIP call.[169] The OPC Review recommended that the Australian Government initiate discussions in international forums to deal with international jurisdictional issues arising from the global reach of new technologies such as VoIP.[170] VoIP technology is discussed further in Part J.

[162] For example, Skype software enables users to access VoIP services.

[163] Australian Government Department of Communications‚ Information Technology and the Arts, Examination of Policy and Regulation Relating to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) Services (2005), 14.

[164] Ibid, 14–15.

[165] Ibid, 15.

[166] Ibid, 19.

[167] J Malcolm, ‘Privacy Issues with VoIP telephony’ (2005) 2 Privacy Law Bulletin 25, 26.

[168] Ibid, 25.

[169] Ibid, 25.

[170] Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Getting in on the Act: The Review of the Private Sector Provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 (2005), rec 70.