The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recently established a framework for the provision of Reverse Search Directory Assistance (RSDA) offered by incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs). RSDA is an expanded directory assistance service that provides the listed name
and address associated with a specific telephone number.
The Commission has decided to allow ILECs to perform information searches when presented with telephone numbers under certain conditions.
As part of the public process leading to the current CRTC decision, the ILECs stated that none of objectives of the Telecommunications Act would be adversely affected if they provided RSDA. On the other hand, groups such as the Anti-Poverty Organization and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, argued that this service contravenes the privacy protection provided by the Act.
The Commission determined that RSDA could be considered appropriate but that they had to balance the respective interests of both the calling party and the called party. The people making the calls could could feel their privacy was being eroded if their identities and locations were disclosed. On the other hand, called parties may want to know who is calling them before answering the phone or returning a call.
Because of the significant safety concerns over providing street addresses, the Commission decided the only information that can be provided by RSDA searches are name and general locality, such as city, town or postal code.
There were some concerns expressed that RSDA service could be a valuable asset to commercial entities involved with telemarketing. They could use the service to determine the names and addresses of those calling for information about products and services without their knowledge or consent.
To address this issue, the new regulations prohibit the use of RSDA for compiling and updating telemarketing lists.
Another major issue was subscriber consent. Given the significant privacy implications associated with RSDA, the regulations will stipulate that ILECs must get consent of subscribers before using or disclosing their information when ILECs provide RSDA service.
Only time will tell if the Commission has drawn the right balance between the need for the information by the called party and the privacy concerns of the calling party.