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Tuesday, 10 September 1985
Page: 393

(Question No. 269)

Senator Walsh —On 8 May 1985, Senator Jack Evans asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Communications, Question No. 269, as follows:

(1) Can the Minister for Communications advise what is the maximum time any single Telecom interception of subscribers' phone services for maintenance purposes (i.e. to locate faults), as distinct from security purposes, has been made: (a) in Western Australia; and (b) nationally.

(2) Were the monitored subscribers, referred to in (1) above, in advance or during the monitoring, notified and aware that their services were being monitored.

(3) Is the Minister aware that monitoring of a subscriber's service may occur over as long a period as 26 days and that such monitoring may take the form of broadcasting the subscribers' telephone conversations through a loudspeaker system.

(4) If Telecom operates with no published guidelines or set procedures for the monitoring of subscribers' services, will the Minister advise on whose authority such monitoring occurs.

(5) Does the Minister plan to establish a set of guidelines for the use of Telecom when carrying out maintenance monitoring of subscribers' services; if so, would such guidelines include the prerequisite of Ministerial authorisation for any monitoring of a sustained nature.

The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the question, based on advice provided by the Australian Telecommunications Commission:

(1) to (5) Statistical information of the type sought is not maintained by Telecom.

The Telecommunications (Interception) Act is the relevant law in relation to the interception of telecommunications.

The Act provides that interception does not apply for any act done by an officer of the Australian Telecommunications Commission in the course of his duties for or in connection with the installation of any line, apparatus or equipment used in the operation or maintenance of a telecommunications system.

With over 6 million telephone subscribers and a vast network to permit the interchange of national and international communications, Telecom staff need to have access to telephone circuits to ensure proper maintenance and operation of the service. Monitoring is normally only for a short duration and it would not be practicable to inform the subscriber concerned every time Telecom staff needed to check a line. A subscriber would also not be informed in cases where more lengthy monitoring is necessary, and it is essential to observe the performance of the service under typical conditions.

It would be operationally impracticable to develop guidelines and instructions that would cover the variety of cases which could arise where Telecom officers need to go across a line on which conversations may be proceeding.

It should be noted that appropriate penalty clauses are contained in the Telecommunications (Interception) Act should there by any disclosure of information obtained in the performance of an officer's duties.