Optus faces class action over major data breach

27 April 2020, Written by Business News Australia

Optus faces class action over major data breach

A class action expected to be brought by Maurice Blackburn against telco Optus will test Australia's privacy laws and seek to deliver compensation to 50,000 aggrieved customers.

Maurice Blackburn alleges Optus breached the Privacy Act after personal details of customers, including home addresses and phone numbers, were published by the telco in the White Pages last October.

The class action is set to be the first of its kind in Australia and could result in a fine for Optus.

Maurice Blackburn senior associate Elizabeth O'Shea says privacy breaches are becoming commonplace as companies amass the personal information of their clients digitally.

"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," says O'Shea.

"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."

Maurice Blackburn intends to take the class action to the Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk, who will determine whether the impacted clients can receive compensation.

An Optus spokesperson says it is working with the Privacy Commissioner on an investigation into the White Pages breach.

"Optus takes its privacy obligations seriously and we regularly review and audits our processes to ensure our customers information is managed securely," says Optus.

"When undertaking a review of our records against Sensis listings last year, we identified inconsistencies.

"We requested that Sensis remove the information from their online directory and we notified all customers who may have been affected."

In December 2019 Optus was hit with a $6.4 million fine after the Federal Court determined an email to customers was misleading.

This was the second time in two years that the Federal Court had ordered Optus to pay penalties for misleading consumers about the need to acquire NBN services.

In May 2018 the Federal Court ordered Optus to pay $1.5 million in penalties for misleading customers about their transition from the Optus HFC network to the NBN.

The Court found that Optus benefitted by around $750,000 as a result of the conduct.

Update: A previous version of this story claimed Optus had been served with the class action, however the legal proceedings have not yet commenced. This article has been updated to reflect that.

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