Privacy and the handling of personal telecommunications information is governed by three main pieces of legislation:
Unlisted or silent numbers
When you sign up with a phone company to obtain a number, you may ask to have it marked as an unlisted number (also known as a ‘silent’ number). An unlisted number can help protect your privacy, as your information is not:
- published in print or electronic phone directories
- available through operator-assisted directory services, such as 1223.
Some phone companies charge their customers an ongoing fee for an unlisted number. Charges vary from provider to provider, so if you want an unlisted number you should shop around.
Calling number display
If you have an unlisted number, when you make a call your number will not be displayed on a calling number display unit or a display handset—this feature will be automatically blocked. Should you wish to display your number for a particular call, you can dial the unblocking code 1832, followed by the number you are calling.
However, there are a few cases when an unlisted number will be displayed. If you make a call to the Triple Zero (000) emergency call service, your details will be made available to the emergency call service operator and the relevant emergency service organisation (ESO), whether or not you have an unlisted number. This allows the operator to contact the relevant ESO, confirm the location of the emergency and ring you back if the connection is broken.
See Calling number display for more information.
Having an unlisted number may not prevent all unwanted calls. For example, some organisations use random or sequential dialling techniques to conduct telemarketing campaigns, or to conduct fundraising, polling or market research.
Additionally, disclosing your unlisted number on application forms or competition entries, or to business and tradespeople may result in your number being passed on to others. Where you have an existing relationship with a business, you can advise them should you no longer wish to receive any more telemarketing calls from them.
Do Not Call Register
To avoid receiving certain unsolicited telemarketing calls (and marketing faxes), you can list your number on the Do Not Call Register, which is managed by the ACMA. Registration is free.
Placing your number on the register will not stop all calls, as some public interest organisations (for example, charities, political parties, religious organisations and educational institutions) are allowed to make calls.
To receive more information about the register or complain about receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls, visit the Do Not Call Register website or phone 1300 792 958.
Unwelcome phone calls involving an imminent threat to a person’s life or health (for example, where a person is threatened with serious injury, a bomb threat or an extortion demand) should be reported directly to police using the Triple Zero emergency call service.
See Life-threatening calls for more information.
Recorded phone conversations
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 protects the privacy of Australians by prohibiting the interception of communications passing over a telecommunications system. There are certain exceptions and circumstances in which communications can be lawfully intercepted—for example, by law enforcement and security agencies.
Under this Act, phone companies may be granted authorisation to disclose telecommunications data and information to enforcement agencies. When monitoring is necessary, the parties involved must follow strict guidelines in order to protect customer privacy.
See the Attorney-General’s Department website for more information.
The Integrated Public Number Database (IPND)
The IPND is an industry-wide database containing all listed and unlisted numbers. Established in 1998 and managed by Telstra under its carrier licence conditions (the IPND Manager), it is a critical source of information for emergency and law enforcement purposes.
All phone companies supplying a carriage service to an end-user of a public number must provide the phone number and associated customer data relating to that number to the IPND Manager. This includes the customer data for all listed and unlisted numbers.
All phone companies are also obliged to ensure that the information given to the IPND Manager is at all times accurate.
The customer data in the IPND may only be accessed from the IPND Manager for approved purposes, as specified in Telstra’s carrier licence conditions or as allowed under Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act. These approved purposes are:
- operating the emergency call service or assisting emergency services
- assisting enforcement agencies or safeguarding national security
- providing directory assistance services (other than unlisted numbers)
- providing operator services or operator assistance services (other than unlisted numbers)
- publishing and maintaining public number directories (other than unlisted numbers)
- providing location-dependent carriage services
- providing telephony-based emergency warning systems
- undertaking approved research
- assisting the ACMA to verify the accuracy and completeness of information held in the IPND.
If your phone number is unlisted, your phone company is responsible for notifying the IPND Manager. The IPND Manager is then responsible for ensuring that data for unlisted numbers is not provided to any party for the purpose of publication in a public number directory or for operator-assisted directory services.
If you believe your privacy has been breached by your phone company, the first step is to try to resolve the matter with the company concerned.
If the matter is not resolved, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO is a free and independent dispute resolution scheme for residential and small-business customers who have not reached a satisfactory resolution to their complaint with their phone company.
Depending on the nature of the complaint, you may wish to contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. It can investigate privacy complaints from individuals about Australian, ACT and Norfolk Island government agencies, and private sector organisations covered by the Privacy Act.
See Making a telecomms complaint for more information.