2 March 2007

Integrated Public Number Database Scheme

Below is a copy of EFA's submission to the Australian Communications and Media Authority in response to the consultation paper on the Integrated Public Number Database Scheme.

This submission is made in response to the ACMA's Consultation Paper on the proposed IPND Scheme, dated January 2007.

EFA strongly supports the Scheme set out in the draft Telecommunications Integrated Public Number Database Scheme 2007 proposed to be made under section 295A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 ("the Act").

In our view the proposed Scheme contains the necessary components to enable ACMA to ensure that access to the IPND by data users is only authorised for the legislatively permitted purposes specified in the Telecommunications Act 1997 of:

  • the publication and maintenance of a public number directory (as defined in the Act);
  • the conduct of research in the public interest, as specified by the Minister in an instrument under subsection 285 (3) of the Act.

We note that access to IPND data for the above purposes excludes access to unlisted numbers and information relating thereto.

As EFA supports the proposed scheme, we lodge only this brief submission to minimise our writing time and ACMA's reading time, rather than commenting in detail on why we support the various aspects. We believe the ACMA is already aware of EFA's overall position on this matter from our submissions to the ACMA inquiry re "Who's Got Your Number" and in response to the previous draft IPND Standard (prior to amendments to the Act).

EFA would have concerns if any of the currently proposed controls and safeguards were to be weakened.

With regard to the proposed forms, we observe that the application for "Provisional authorisation form" includes the following questions:

"4. Will any of your IPND holdings be reverse-searchable? ...
 5. Will any of your PNDs be reverse-searchable?"

although sub-clause(d) of the definition of "public number directory" in the Act (as amended by the IPND Act) in effect prohibits production of a PND which includes reverse-search capabilities. EFA understands from a telephone conversation with a relevant ACMA staff member that the above questions are included with a view to enabling the ACMA to be aware of applicants with an inadequate understanding of the provisions of the Act, and that access would not be granted to any applicant intending to produce a PND with reverse-search capabilities. This information resolved the concern we had on initially reading those questions.

With regard to authorisation of access for research, EFA notes the provisions requiring researchers to notify a person whom they contact, using customer data from the IPND, of a number of matters including that "the customer may refuse consent to having his or her details identified in the research". However the Consultation Paper states that:

"ACMA is also concerned with protecting the privacy of individuals whose information may be included in a piece of research. It is, therefore, expected that ACMA will require researchers to de-identify their research by removing the names and phone numbers of those who may have participated. ACMA may decide not to impose or to vary or remove such a condition if a researcher is able to provide a compelling reason why identified information should remain."

EFA considers that, if the ACMA decides there is a compelling reason, the relevant researcher should be required to inform people that their information will not be de-identified, before they provide any additional information, and should have the opportunity to refuse to permit their information to be used/disclosed.

We take this opportunity to advise that EFA continues to be highly concerned by the inapplicability of the Scheme to Sensis. We remain of the view stated in our previous submissions that the same rules should apply to all organisations that collect customer data for directory purposes, regardless of whether the information is collected from the IPND or directly from carriage service providers (as in the case of Sensis). The current situation fails to result in the level playing field intended by the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the absence of a level playing field is not in the best interests of consumers.

EFA also takes this opportunity to commend the ACMA for having provided a consultation period of over one month. During the first two months of this year there have been a significant number of privacy-related government agency calls for comment with short consultation periods, e.g. two weeks, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for members of the public and non-profit organisations to respond. It is pleasing to see the ACMA continuing to evidence more seriousness about public consultation by providing more appropriate lengths of time for lodgement of submissions.