Privacy Commissioner, ACMA ink deal to ease duplication

The ACMA and the Australian Privacy Commissioner have signed a deal to work together in a bid to streamline telecommunications, spam, and telemarketing matters, and to ease duplication in their respective duties.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Australian Privacy Commissioner have signed a memorandum of understanding (PDF) to work together in a bid to streamline their duties relating to telecommunications, spam, and telemarketing matters, while also easing duplication.

The Australian Privacy Commissioner regulates industry compliance with the Privacy Act 1988, along with some specific functions by other legislation, including the Telecommunications Act 1997, while the ACMA's role includes the registration of industry codes, which may sometimes include privacy-related matters, as well as telecommunications matters and matters covered by the Spam Act 2006.

Recognising that the Privacy Commissioner has a statutory obligation to investigate complaints made to it, the ACMA will not ordinarily investigate matters being investigated by the Commissioner.

However, there are some circumstances where the ACMA may investigate a matter under investigation by the Privacy Commissioner, such as when an ACMA Direction or Enforceable Undertaking has been breached, necessitating a separate investigation.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) is designed to formalise this previously informal cooperation between the two agencies in relation to telecommunications matters.

Under the new arrangements, the organisations will confer on matters where they both have an interest, and work together to agree on the lead agency to deal with the matter.

"This MOU further strengthens the relationship between our two agencies. It reinforces our commitment to protect the privacy of Australians in the most efficient and effective manner possible, while reducing the regulatory burden on organisations," said Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman also welcomed the new arrangements.

"The MOU is designed to enable both entities to discuss matters of shared concern and jointly to decide on which agency is best positioned to act on a matter of mutual interest, which will streamline engagement and improving 'forum certainty' for organisations," he said.

The MOU also provides for what the agencies are calling appropriate information sharing in investigations, as well as statistical information about telecommunications privacy issues.

The move comes as the federal government introduces legislation in parliament to cut back on duplication among government agencies.

The federal government published its Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014 on October 23 as part of its "2014 Spring Repeal Day", the second such day in parliament this year dedicated to repealing legislation it believes has resulted in unnecessary red tape.

The new Bill, if it passes parliament without any amendments, would remove a number of record-keeping and reporting obligations imposed on telecommunications providers in relation to authorised disclosures of information or documents for law-enforcement purposes, and would ultimately prevent the ACMA from disclosing the number of warrantless data requests from government agencies in its annual report.

The latest ACMA annual report revealed that requests from government agencies for Australian telecommunications customers' phone, internet, and address data surpassed 500,000 in the last financial year — a number far in excess of the 300,000 the Attorney-General's Department said were made the year prior.

Editorial standards