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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 987


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) (12:50 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

TELECOMMUNICATIONS AMENDMENT (INTEGRATED PUBLIC NUMBER DATABASE) BILL 2009

The bill proposes amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (the Act) to allow information contained in the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) to be disclosed to authorised persons to facilitate state and territory government initiated telephony-based emergency warning systems.

States and Territories have primary responsibility for emergency response measures.

They currently use a range of mechanisms to warn the public of impending emergencies - most commonly doorknocking, sirens, TV and radio broadcast alerts.

The capacity to provide telephony-based alerts would be a valuable addition to the States’ and Territories’ arsenal of warning mechanisms.

Telephony-based emergency warning systems would allow the States and Territories to deliver mass outbound emergency warnings (for example via Recorded Voice Announcements or SMS) quickly and accurately to the public in targeted geographical areas. Telephony-based emergency warnings would complement existing warning mechanisms with a view to improving a community’s ability to prepare for, and respond to, an emergency.

The IPND is a centralised database of all telephone numbers in Australia (including unlisted numbers) and associated customer information, such as name and address information. The IPND was established for the efficient operation and functioning of telecommunications networks. The IPND is currently managed by Telstra Corporation Limited (Telstra). Telstra is currently required to provide and maintain the IPND as a condition of its carrier licence.

Given the personal nature of the information contained in the IPND (such as telephone numbers, names, addresses), access to the information in the IPND is strictly limited under the Act.

The Act does not currently permit wide-scale disclosure of information in the IPND to State and Territory emergency authorities for telephony-based emergency warnings.

The historical advice to the Commonwealth has been that any plan to allow the States and Territories access to the integrated public number database (IPND) as part of any warning system would be best secured by a legislative amendment. Legislation is required to impose appropriate ongoing controls against potential misuse of sensitive personal information taken from the IPND.

There are clear advantages in using data sourced from the IPND for telephony-based emergency warnings over the alternative consumer ‘opt-in’ arrangement. Opt-in arrangements rely on individual consumers to sign-up, maintaining data accuracy and currency. The IPND is a requirement for telephone usage and as a result it is the most comprehensive and accurate Australian public number database available and information is updated on a continual basis.

At the July 2008 COAG meeting the Commonwealth secured the agreement of the States and Territories that this matter was a priority and required policy agreement between the States and Territories by December 2008. This outcome was achieved.

In accordance with the agreement, this legislation has been drafted by the Commonwealth to authorise access to the IPND to the States and Territories for the purpose of developing and implementing warning systems.

This bill when passed will allow information contained in the IPND (including unlisted telephone numbers) to be disclosed to persons authorised by the Attorney-General. This is likely to primarily be State and Territory Government officials, however there is the flexibility for the Attorney to authorise other persons.

The bill provides the Attorney-General with powers to make legislative instruments.

The Attorney-General, in consultation with the Minister administering the Act, will specify who can use IPND information in the event of an emergency or disaster. It is anticipated that this will be at a senior level within agencies responsible for emergency management.

The circumstances in which IPND information could be used for a telephony-based warning will also be determined by the Attorney-General. It is intended that the meaning of ‘emergency’ will be that which applies under relevant State and Territory laws respectively.

Individual States and Territories will also retain autonomy to decide when and how best to warn their citizens of emergencies and disasters. The States and Territories will be responsible for developing the telephony-based emergency warning message delivery systems and the content of any messages.

The bill includes a number of safeguards.

To address potential privacy concerns, when IPND information is used to issue an emergency warning, subscriber names will not be disclosed.

Secondary disclosure provisions contained in the Act will also apply. In recognition of the sensitive personal information contained in the IPND and that both listed and unlisted numbers will be released, there are penalties of up to two years imprisonment for misuse of the IPND data.

The bill also requires any agency that activates a telephony-based emergency warning using IPND information to report each incident to the Attorney-General and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Agencies responsible for issuing alerts will also be required to report annually to the ACMA and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

Location Dependent Carriage Services

The bill also contains amendments that will clarify provisions in the Act which relate to the disclosure and use of IPND data for delivering Location Dependent Carriage Services (LDCSs). LDCSs are services which automatically route calls to the appropriate store or branch location of a business, depending on the location of the caller.

Examples of businesses commonly using this type of service include pizza delivery and taxi services. Currently the Act does not contain express authority for disclosure and use of information in the IPND for the purpose of providing LDCSs on a wide scale.

The amendments explicitly allow LDCS providers to access listed public number information in the IPND for the purpose of supplying large-scale LDCSs. The amendments are aimed at addressing the current legislative uncertainty concerning the ability of carriage service providers to use IPND data for LDCSs. The bill also addresses key privacy concerns around the release of IPND data. Disclosure of IPND information relating to unlisted numbers is not permitted under the new amendments. An additional secondary disclosure and use offence have been included in the amendments to further protect against improper disclosure and use of information from the IPND for the purpose of providing LDCSs.

I commend the bill to the Senate.