Australia's leading class action firm, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, have made a ground-breaking class action complaint against Optus for disclosing the personal details of 50,000 customers, the first class action against a telco seeking compensation for a breach of privacy.
The telecommunications giant published personal details, including home addresses, of the customers, which it revealed in October 2019. In what is an important test of Australia's privacy laws, the class action is expected to seek compensation for affected customers.
Under the Privacy Act, corporations which disclose personal details of clients face penalties including fines.
But until now no class action using the Act has been brought on behalf of customers seeking compensation. Under the Act, consumers may be compensate for privacy breaches.
The class action alleges Optus failed in its duties by:
- Disclosing personal information of customers within the meaning of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (the Act).
- Disclosing private information originally collected for another purpose, namely the provision of Optus services. The disclosure of personal information in phone directories was a secondary purposes and was not consented to by customers.
- Failing to take steps to protect the privacy of its customers
Maurice Blackburn Senior Associate Elizabeth O'Shea said privacy breaches are an increasing problem as companies become increasingly entrusted with personal information.
"When people share personal information about themselves with companies, especially large ones, they expect that data to be held securely, and for it to be used only in lawful ways. Too often we see reports of data mismanagement and it's time for companies to be held accountable for this. Bad practices in data management can have real world consequences for people, and to make companies understand that, we will need to start taking them to court.
Ms O'Shea said class actions were an essential legal mechanism which allowed consumers to seek for corporate wrong-doing.
"Indeed, a functioning class actions system is a deterrent to corporate malfeasance, and signals to both investors and consumers wrongdoing comes at a price, bolstering confidence in the market. It also counterbalances the power of large companies and allows wronged consumers to take them on."
Affected Optus customers can register by emailing optusclassaction@mauriceblackburn or calling 1800 318 061.