January 30, 2019

Telco Gives Customer Too Much Privacy

The Privacy Commissioner has determined that a person is entitled to the records of not only the telecommunications they send, but also of those that they receive.The ruling stems from a complaint laid by a man who had asked his telecommunications company to provide him with records of all communications between him and his landlord over a certain period. The telco refused, saying that because he had received, rather than sent the calls and texts, the records were the landlord's personal information.

The Telecommunications Information Privacy Code 2003 (TIPC) regulates how telcos deal with information about their customers. The key provisions here are rule 6, which grants individuals the right to access any personal information about them that a telco holds; and rule 11, which tightly controls how and when such information can be disclosed.

In this instance, the telco adopted the "better safe than sorry" approach, deciding that only the originator of a communication was entitled to the related information.The Privacy Commissioner disagreed, saying "It was clear that they knew each other, and that the landlord wanted the man to see the content of the text messages. We could see no reason why giving the man a copy of the text messages would be an unwarranted disclosure of the landlord's affairs."

Although it's unfortunate that the complainant had to go through a lengthy, official procedure to get the information, it is good to have some clarity around the regulations.

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