A report published in The Guardian revealed that an Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam has urged the Australian Federal Police and Australian Communications and Media Authority to investigate Vodafone over a serious privacy breach in which a journalist’s phone records were accessed.
According to the news report, Natalie O’Brien, Fairfax journalist, had her phone records leaked by a Vodafone employee in 2011, after she reported on a major data breach the company had suffered.
“The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and Acma have both released statements acknowledging they have been made aware of the breach, but neither organisation has committed to an investigation,” the news report added.
As per the Telecommunications Act, no one either telecommunications provider or an employee, has authority to use or disclose information relating to the contents of phone records.
“It’s flat out a really interesting test of whether the laws that protect privacy in Australia are actually going to be upheld by the regulators,” Ludlam told Guardian Australia. There’s two issues. One will be whether the Acma’s directions were upheld. It’s not clear to me whether they were. Secondly, whether the federal police are intending to investigate the company for illegal access of phone records.
He said that while Vodafone was facing scrutiny for this particular breach, the case was an important illustration to put all companies on notice about their privacy obligations.
According to the news report, in December 2011, Acma gave formal directions to Vodafone that require it to take certain steps to improve its data practices. In the event the organisation were to investigate and find their directions had been breached, they could face heavy financial penalties.
In a statement released on Monday, acting information commissioner and privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said the OAIC had been aware of “an allegation about inappropriate access to an individuals’ telephone records in May 2015.”
“The OAIC has been in contact with Vodafone to make inquiries about the allegation. The OAIC has also been liaising with the Australian Communications and Media Authority about these allegations, in accordance with the memorandum of understanding between the two agencies,” the statement read.
Acma released a statement and said it was aware of the allegations.
“The Acma has not previously investigated these allegations,” the spokesperson said.