Telephone bills: the last three digits will now be visible

22 September 2008

Giuilia Mozzato, Carlo Quaranta

On 13 March 2008, the Italian Data Protection Authority (the Garante) issued an Authorisation to providers of public electronic communications networks or services. The Authorisation sets out the call details to be provided in invoices sent to users. In particular, the Garante ordered providers to show the last three digits of dialled calls, whereas until now such digits had to be hidden. Users who wish to have the last three digits of their own phone number hidden on other people’s invoices must expressly request the operator to do so.

The Authorisation meets the needs of users who have stated that they need to be able to easily check the accuracy of bills issued and the relevant dialled calls. Until now, users had only been entitled to have access to all of the digits dialled where a bill had been challenged or disputed, and within a limited time period.

From 1 July 2008, the general rule is that fixed-line and mobile phone operators will specify in the printout attached to the bill the numbers of the dialled calls in full. The last three-digits of the dialled calls will be hidden only upon express request of a user of a telephone number. Telephone operators must give users the option to hide the last three digits. Users must be informed through a website notice as well as in their invoices that they are entitled to ask for the last three-digits of the dialled calls to be hidden. The notice should make it clear that individuals who intend to receive a detailed invoice will be given the full numbers dialled unless the subscriber requests that the last three digits are hidden.

Code of ethics and best practice for data processing in relation to investigations and civil disputes

The Garante has recently drafted a preliminary code of ethics for data processing carried out by lawyers, trainees, consultants and private detectives. This code covers processing data for defensive investigations relating to criminal proceedings, or in order to enforce civil claims before a judge. Defensive investigations is the phase of a criminal processing during which the parties search for evidence to prove their allegations.  Although processing data in this context is necessary to ensure a full and effective defence and to refute a claim, it is necessary also to safeguard the right to privacy, personal identity, as well as the dignity of those involved in judicial proceedings.

In order to balance these diverging interests, which deserve equal protection, the Garante has set out the general principles to be followed by lawyers and private detectives, when processing data during [defensive investigations], in addition to the general obligations of Italian data protection law. In particular, they are required to:

  • prevent the unjustified collection or processing of data. Special care should be taken when exchanging correspondence, acquiring confidential documents and data, in relation to custody of documents which are not filed during proceedings and retention of legal documents. 

  • provide adequate information notices to their clients, the documents containing the information notice can be fixed to the walls of the business premises., and

  • delete data at the end of the proceedings.

The Garante further stressed that data processing must be carried out in a lawful and fair manner.

The preliminary scheme will be adopted by the Garante once those covered by the scheme have made their observations.

Rai television fee: behaviour of tax agents acting on behalf or Rai when pressing for payment of fees

Italian citizens using Rai, the Italian public broadcasting, are required to pay a licence fee for such usage. On the ground of a Convention signed between Rai and the Tax Agency, the Tax Agency officers (the “tax agents”) are entitled to collect this licence fees on behalf of Rai.

The Garante has recently ordered the Tax Agency to adopt all measures necessary to ensure that tax agents comply with data protection law when processing data. Several complaints have been made to the Garante about unlawful behaviour of tax agents acting on behalf of Rai. The complaints state that these tax agents introduce themselves as “inspectors” when visiting alleged Rai tax evaders and demand payment of fees in an inquisitorial and threatening manner.

The Tax Agency must assure the Garante that tax agents do not use deception or false pretences when addressing Rai users. Tax agents will be required to explain to Rai users what kind of activities they are meant to carry out on behalf of Rai. The Tax Agency is required to provide an information notice which clarifies whether providing the information requested by the agents is voluntary or mandatory.

The Tax Agency also undertook that the Rai agents would not threaten alleged tax evaders with intrusive inspections of their houses if they refuse to provide the requested information.

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