Email address and mobile phone number should not be mandatory

Emails and mobile phones are convenient communication options we all became accustomed to, but until there are email and mobile phone services that are subject to strict privacy laws, are free, reliable, accessible, secure, and don't harvest personal data from their users, every request to supply an email address or a mobile phone number when filling out any form or application or creating an online account is yet another step towards erosion of safety and privacy of Australians. Nobody is legally required to have an email or a mobile phone, so there always should be an option to say I don't have (or don't want to give) either of them.

An option not to give a phone number or an email address adds an extra security layer: if someone receives a message or a phone call from scammers claiming to be from the Department of Human Services, Taxation Office, Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, myGov, Bureau of Statistics or any other government agency (these types of scam are very common), and the person knows they have never given this phone number or email address to this agency, they will immediately know it is a scam and will not become a victim of it. Unfortunately, as things stand, both government agencies and private enterprises often demand email and/or mobile number as mandatory, even when it is unnecessary, and then shirk any responsibility by forcing the person to agree to terms and conditions that deny the person privacy and safety, or shun the consequences by simply posting scam warning on their websites, like Department of Human Services scam page, or ATO scam alerts, or ABS “beware of scammers” page.

If phone numbers or email addresses are absolutely essential for communications between the public and the government or businesses, the following two conditions must be met first:

1. There must be a free, reliable, secure, 100% Australian owned and operated email service

You have to be a rare and lucky exception if at any point in recent years you haven't been nudged by some organisation to go online and switch to electronic bills/statements/notices/etc. myGov, myTax, myPost, AEC, Medicare, Centrelink, banks, local councils, insurers, electricity suppliers, phone companies, utility services — all want you to create online accounts or switch to eStatements, eBills, eEnrolnment and eAppointments. And while reducing paper mail may look like an eco-friendly idea, and given the increasingly slow and unreliable Australian postal service, there is a tricky step in this process: to create an account or do anything online with any of these entities you must have an email address.

The problem is that there is no free, secure, reliable, 100% Australia-hosted and Australian-operated email service that respects user privacy and is not tied to any specific Internet provider. This means that Australians are essentially forced by Australian companies and the Australian government to use foreign services like Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail or Yahoo, and thus hand their personal data and private communications over to foreign entities that have no responsibilities under Australian law and can use the collected data for their commercial benefit in any way their laws permit. Considering that documents like utility bills or bank statements can be used to confirm, or to forge, identity of any Australian, the risks are very significant.

Besides safety implications, there are serious privacy concerns. Foreign services don't care about Australian privacy laws and instead comply with mass surveillance directives of their own governments. In addition to foreign intelligence agencies, privacy can be violated by the email service providers themselves. For example, Gmail reads every message the user sends or receives, and extracts information about the person's contacts, family, work, bills, travels, hotel bookings, ticket purchases, car rentals, online shopping transactions, and any other movements. Email providers analyse every email, allegedly to create a “better user experience”, such as to remind about appointments and reservations, to suggest autoreplies, to predict the importance of each email, but does anyone still believe they would do anything for the user convenience if there was no profit for the company in it? These corporations greatly benefit from the fact that every institution now pushes for online communications: emails now contain highly sensitive information such as doctor appointments, hospital forms, bank statements, passport and visa applications, utility bills, and so on. From the contents of ordinary emails, the provider will quickly harvest your name, date of birth, address, names of your relatives, friends and colleagues, your place of work, your salary, your health status, your bank accounts, where you go, where you stay, where you shop, what you buy, what you look like, when your children were born, what they look like, what school they go to... All that data is read, analysed, compiled and stored somewhere overseas. It is used for advertising and marketing trickery. It can also be shared, sold or hacked at any time.

2. There should be no ID checks for prepaid mobile numbers

Another growing issue is with various government departments and private enterprises demanding that the person gives them a mobile number. Most people regularly have to fill various forms where mobile number is marked as mandatory. For example, ATO keeps pestering taxpayers to use their online myTax facility, but demands a mobile phone number in it. Recently, they offered an option to use the MyGov Code Generator app instead of a mobile phone number, but downloading that app from AppStore or Google Play means creating an account with Apple or Google and inevitably giving personal and contact information to those corporations. It also means disclosing and tying your device ID to those companies and to MyGov.

In addition to extra costs imposed on the person by this demand, as mobile phones and services are not free, this has significant privacy ramifications. Unlike in New Zealand or the UK, it is impossible to legally obtain an Australian mobile phone number without a photo ID. This means that those government departments and businesses are essentially forcing each person to hand over their identity and money to a telco, which is often a foreign corporation, and to allow them to track the person's private life, communications, contacts and daily movements.

This also means the mobile number cannot be changed easily and without losing one's privacy even further in the event of some spammers, scammers or hackers getting hold of the person's contact details, often by stealing them from the very businesses and government institutions that demanded those details in the first place.

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It has always amused me how whenever it comes to doing something unpopular, out govt is quick to point out a similar practice already in place in the UK. 'Look, the UK are doing that, and so we should too!' But when it comes to stopping requesting ID checks for prepaid numbers, we suddenly cannot have it the UK way.

Ros, 29 April 2017

Being forced by our own authorities to use foreign corporations like Google for our email correspondence is only one part of the problem. The other problem I've been battling with lately is Google trying to wrench incrementally more personal information out of me. When I created my Gmail account, they asked my name only. Later, they demanded to know my phone number, or risk being locked out of my own account. Now they want my home address, apparently "to serve me better". And of course closing that account with Google and opening a new one somewhere else is now a major headache, as I had to give this email address to a huge number of departments and services.

Anonymous, 3 July 2019

Good point!! It seriously pisses me off that the government requires mobile phone number for covid vaccination. In Queensland at least, you can't register on their stupid site without a mobile number. The government didn't give me the phone or paid for it to have the right to demand it. Last time I gave my number to the authorities I was inundated with unwanted messages, so I'm not going to give it this time. If they keep insisting, then they can stick their vaccine up their ***. They are worse than scammers, because if scammers are caught misusing our data, they will be punished. The government never will be.

Anonymous, Queensland, Australia, 24 June 2021

The covid surveillance and data grab is another example. You must give your phone number to covid contact tracing, you must give your phone number when entering venues and shops, you must give your phone number for covid testing, you must give your phone number for covid vaccination, you must, you must... When Australian government lets me get a phone number without being forced to give my personal data and photo ID to a telco provider, then and only then they can ask for it.

Greg, 1 July 2021

Same situation for me: I would like to get a covid-19 vaccine, and I am eligible, but it looks like I won't be able to because I can't agree with the scope of personal data the government wants to collect and with how that data will be stored and used. Email and phone number were made mandatory for booking a vaccination through the state program. Ridiculous! Basically our government is saying that unless I give my personal information and money to a phone company, I can't get a vaccine. A photo ID is another ridiculous condition. I am not going to agree to have my ID details stored with my medical records. Then they demand to know the language spoken at home and the country of birth. What is that for? For discrimination? For targeting certain population groups? For "statistics"?? No thanks, we already have the ABS with its surveys and census for the outrageous assault on privacy that is passed for statistics in this country. You would think that vaccination during a pandemic should be all about doing is quickly, safely and keeping people healthy, not about hoovering private information to the maximum. But no, not in Australia!

Anonymous, 10 July 2021

Be very careful if you are booking covid-19 vaccine online. Many clinics and medical centres dupe you into making the booking via HotDoc, HealthEngine, 1stGroup sites, etc. So you will be creating an account with a commercial entity and giving your personal and medical information to them, and then your data can be used for advertisement, marketing and financial gain of those businesses and their "partners". Just read Health Engine Privacy Policy. It is outrageous that an official government web site even links to such companies, let alone tells people to actually use those systems!

Greg, 13 July 2021

I saw an article on one of the news sites spinning a yarn that the info about the country of birth and language spoken at home is allegedly collected for covid tests and vaccinations because community leaders pushed for it. Now see, I am an overseas born Australian speaking another language with my family, and I have no idea who these community leaders are, nor does anybody else I know! I don't accept their authority, and I certainly don't want to be told to supply additional personal data just because some *** leaders want it.

Anonymous, 18 July 2021

Hear hear! It is sickening and alarming how mobile number became mandatory for almost everything in Australia. We can't even get an appointment for covid vaccination without it. Fine. In this case, we won't be booking until a phone isn't required, or until Australian government changes its spying tactics and lets people purchase sim cards without photo IDs.

Chris, 11 August 2021

It's not difficult to see why Australian government is gradually tying everything to a mobile phone number thus making it a de facto Australia card. For their purposes, it is even better than Australia card. An identity card is passive, it doesn't tell more than is written on it, while mobile phones are ideal for 24/7 spying on everyone everywhere.
First, the government made it mandatory to show a photo ID when you buy a sim or get any mobile service. Then it passed data retention and surveillance laws that allow it to watch everything you say and receive in all your communications, know all your contacts and trace your location. Now it is simply making sure that everyone is forced to have a mobile phone by making it impossible to access the most essential things without a mobile phone.
The pandemic just made this process much faster and mush easier for the government. Just wait and watch how we lose the last traces of privacy in the upcoming months with something like vaccine passports, and will never get it back even if the pandemic ends.

Anonymous, 12 August 2021

It still seems impossible to get covid vaccine without online booking, which requires that we must to provide unique email address and mobile number that have not been used to register before. My husband and I share one email account that is a paid service hosted in Australia. This means only one of us can get the vaccine. Contacting the government health department was a waste of time. Their response was that we should create another email account on Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo. Which is them basically saying, go and give your personal data and private correspondence to an overseas corporation that will spy on you. This is totally unacceptable! Email address or phone number should not be mandatory for any taxpayer-funded vaccine or service.

Anonymous, 6 September 2021

Source:  annystudio.com