We may have had a little giggle in our office when asked the question “Is VoIP Illegal in Australia?”.
Not because it’s a silly question, we understand that VoIP and the intricacies of telecommunications are tricky topics for many outside of our field.
But more so because if VoIP were illegal in Australia, that would make us criminals, and the image of our friendly team of tech professionals becoming some sort of underground communications crime ring is quite amusing to say the least!
In the Ultimate Guide to VoiP we did a deep dive into Voice over Internet Protocol and how it has come into everyday use at a rapid rate.
However, despite how commonplace VoIP has become, it seems like with a lot of newer technologies, there is always some scrutiny for fear of misuse, and in this case, some uncertainty regarding the legality of VoIP in Australia.
So, where did this question of VoIP being illegal in Australia come from?
Fear of Change or Reasonable Caution?
There’s often some fear surrounding newer technologies as we adapt to them in our day to day lives.
In recent years, we have embraced social media and new forms of communication with gusto, and only now are seeing discussions around privacy, misinformation, and security come to light.
With the many benefits advances in technology bring, we know by now that there is potential for misuse. To quote Dr Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
So it would be unfair to label questions around whether VoIP is illegal or should be illegal as technophobic or ignorant. But rather, appreciate that this line of questioning and sensible caution has perhaps saved us from the same fate as Jeff Goldblum’s character. Thankfully, the technological abilities and risks to society of VoIP do not quite compare to those of a 1993 science fiction film, so there’s a lot less at stake and much less to fear. Unfortunately, with VoIP, there are also far less dinosaurs.
This is not a problem exclusively faced by VoIP and newer methods of telecommunication. In 1982 filmmakers pushed to ban VHS tapes fearing the ability to record films would crush the film industry.
When using bicycles gained popularity in the late 1880’s, claims were made that riders risked their sanity and would be prone to physical issues as a result of simply riding a bike.
It was around this time too that the New York Times attacked the telephone, insisting that it would make society lazy and antisocial (sound familiar?), with some claiming it would be used to communicate with the dead (hopefully less familiar…).
While the leap in technology from the system of copper-wiring landline phones connected to the Public Switched Telephone Network to VoIP is not as severe, it doesn’t mean it is immune to social and legal scrutiny.
Because VoIP generally functions over the internet via a broadband connection, there has been debate whether VoiP providers are subjected to the same kinds of laws and regulations as traditional phone providers.
This is one of the leading reasons for the question: is VoIP legal or illegal?
The Telecommunications Act 1997
The Telecommunications Act is a set of regulations imposed by the Australian Federal Government on communications providers to ensure they are providing safe systems to the public.
The few VoiP services that connect to the PSTN are regarded as ‘carriage services’ which the federal government defines as “a service for carrying communications by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic electricity”.
This indicates that these PSTN-bound VoiP services are legal to distribute and use in Australia so long as they work under the act, however, this begs the question regarding the legality of the numerous VoiP services separate from a PSTN.
The Privacy Act 1998
The Privacy Act is the legislation under the Federal Government that is used to enforce restrictions on how companies with an annual turnover of over $3 million handle an individual’s personal information.
Therefore those VoiP services unbound by the Telecommunications Act but earning revenue of over $3 million in a year are allowed to operate as long as they are operating in accordance with the Act.
That being said, it is still legal for providers earning less than $3 million a year to use VoIP in Australia as long as they aren’t engaging in illegal activity.
Is VoiP illegal outside of Australia
While not illegal for an Australian citizen to access VoiP services outside of Australia, there are concerns regarding other countries’ laws in regards to privacy and the protection of personal information that may interfere with those laws in Australia.
Therefore the Australian Government has been advised to join international forums to discuss the implications of the global reach of technologies like VoIP that could fall beyond their jurisdiction.
VoIP is illegal or restricted in a number of countries around the globe, including China, Mexica, UAE, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, and others.
In some cases it is claimed to be due to privacy and security concerns, yet in others such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia, it is due to governments protecting investment in local telecom services, and in some cases like Cuba it is simply due to poor quality internet being unable to support VoIP and many citizens not owning computers.
So is VoIP legal for Australians?
Yes. Otherwise we wouldn’t be in business!
While there may be some restrictions in other countries, this is certainly not the case here in Australia. VoIP services are legal to use as long as providers obey the laws set by the Australian Government.
While the way that individuals and businesses use VoIP is subject to laws and legislations, just as one is when driving a car, buying a house, or operating a business, this does not make the service itself illegal.
The indisputable fact is, VoIP is completely legal here in Australia, and as it continues to help businesses and individuals communicate we will only see its popularity increase.
Considering VoiP for your business?
So now that we’ve well and truly myth-busted the question ‘is VoIP illegal?’, and proven that our team isn’t running an illegal underground business communications racket, we’re going to go back to being the friendly VoIP experts that we’re used to being.
If you have any questions regarding VoIP or anything else related to business communication solutions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.