Callers beware, Customs knows where you are

Callers beware, Customs knows where you are

Summary: Customs plans on rolling out a system to identify a caller's location and what phone system they are using, however it has yet to reveal whether it will cross reference calls with Australia's national caller database.


Customs plans on rolling out a system to identify a caller's location and what phone system they are using, however it has yet to reveal whether it will cross reference calls with Australia's national caller database.

The Australian Customs Service has requested expressions of interest from vendors to supply software and services which can identify the whereabouts of individuals calling the agency. The planned initial contract period will be 14 months, according to the document, with a scheduled start date of March this year.

The reverse telephone number search software will be used by Customs' Intelligence and Border Targeting branches. It is expected that Intelligence will analyse and share the information with Border Targeting -- the branch which intervenes in activities Customs deems pose a high risk to national security and border revenue collection.

The provider of the service will also need to be able to offer data sources that give the name, address, phone numbers and phone-types being used by the caller, such as whether the call is being made from a mobile phone or via satellite. Customs wants access to both listed and unlisted numbers of businesses and individuals.

The successful tenderer's staff work will be required to undergo a series of security tests administered by Customs. According to the tender, information collected via the system will only be able to be transferred offshore if it is approved by the department.

The tender does not outline what data sources will be accessed for the system, however, one potential source is Australia's Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) -- a database restricted to Australian law enforcement agencies and emergency services, which has been maintained by Telstra since 1997. Customs has not been approved by the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) -- which regulates access to the database in conjunction with members of its Law Enforcement Advisory Committee -- to access the database.

Organisations currently able to access the IPND include all state police departments, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Federal Police, the Attorney General's Department and the Defence Signals Directorate. At the time of writing, Customs had yet to respond to's queries over whether it intends to access the IPND.

The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) has criticised the IPND on the grounds its Law Enforcement Advisory Committee excludes input from bodies representing citizen's rights, such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

"It is quite unacceptable for discussion about the law enforcement uses of telecommunications data to be taking place entirely between directly interested agencies and industry representatives, without any balancing input putting the case for consumer privacy," the APF said in a submission to the government.

Topics: Software, Big Data, Data Management, Government AU, Privacy, Security

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Silent Numbers

    I have a silent number. Are we saying that Govt agencies can just go out and put a tender in place to bypass my privacy.
    While I have nothing to do with Customs from home this does not bode well.
  • Silent numbers

    What is often unknown is that Silent numbers is a Telstra product that applies a fee to giving customers a perception of privacy for not appearing in a directory product.
    The actual term used by the industry is 'unlisted entry' and is usually provided free of charge.
    In either instance, this only means that the number cannot be published in a telephone directory, either printed or on-line.
    Telstra (Sensis) does not use IPND data for its own directory products and is not subject to the same privacy rules as other directory producers.
    As indicated in the article, a number of government agencies have access to the IPND and the 'unlisted' flag in the IPND has no impact on them (i.e. they can see your name, address, telephone number and service provider). The IPND Act 2006 and ACMA IPND scheme also gives access to IPND data to a number of other entities including: government departments and agencies, charities, reserarchers, educational institutes (from pre-schools to universities), religious organisations, political parties and anyone else the Minister see's fit to give access to.