The federal government's proposal to repeal privacy regulations in the Telecommunications Act would allow smaller telcos to slip through the legal cracks, according to a submission published today by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).
In its submission to the government review of communications regulation, ACCAN outlined how the proposed removal of Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act would mean that telcos with an annual turnover of less than AU$3 million would effectively become exempt from privacy laws under the Privacy Act.
"Telecommunications providers with a turnover of less than AU$3 million are currently covered under Part 13, but not the Privacy Act," ACCAN said in its submission. "This is of serious concern as an audit of telecommunications providers by Communications Compliance conducted in 2012-13 has established that there are a large number of smaller carriage service providers in the market selling telecommunications services to the public."
The Department of Communications proposed removing privacy rules in Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act as part of number of regulatory measures tagged for the government's upcoming second 'repeal day', scheduled for September or October this year.
Earlier this year, Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull flagged that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) had identified 280 pages' worth of legislation that could be repealed on the Abbott government’s first 'repeal day' in March.
This followed the government's decision to devote one parliamentary sitting day per session to repealing what it believes to be unnecessary regulation.
According to the government, the deregulatory proposal to repeal Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act would "remove compliance and record-keeping obligations on industry, while the Privacy Act would maintain strong consumer protections."
However, ACCAN said that removing the privacy regulations found in Part 13 of the Act would not only overlook smaller telcos, but also exempt metadata and decriminalise privacy offences by telecommunications providers.
"Given the large amount of information held by the industry about its customers — personal details, content of communications, metadata such as internet browsing history — we believe that any reforms need to maintain existing levels of protection, not reduce them," said ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin.
The communications consumers' peak body also cautioned the government's proposed changes to the Customer Service Guarantee (CSG) Standard, which is applicable to landline phones and currently requires providers to connect a service, repair a fault and attend appointments within a maximum timeframe.
According to ACCAN, the government’s proposal would see individual consumers "go it alone" in negotiating connection and repair timeframes with their telco providers.
"The CSG is an important consumer protection and isn't something we can simply do away with. We understand that it needs updating, especially in light of the NBN, however we must err on the side of caution as this is an important issue for Australian consumers," said Corbin.