Black Pages bites the dust

Black Pages bites the dust

A company offering to reverse-search Telstra's telephone directories has gone into liquidation following a Federal Court decision upholding Telstra's ownership of intellectual property rights over its telephone book listings.

Desktop Marketing Systems, (DtMS Pty Ltd) offered a CD-ROM database to bypass Telstra access controls and produce a name and address from a single telephone number. The product is colloquially known as the "Black Pages" because of its ability to cross-match information generally restricted by Telstra.

Telstra has long argued such products contravene the Copyright, Privacy and Telecommunications acts.

However, DtMS is not going down without a fight, with managing director Andre Scibor-Kaminski accusing Telstra of selling out Australia's national security by taking his company to the wall.

Scibor-Kaminski said DtMS' closure will "hinder current and future police and intelligence investigations at a time when governments of all political persuasion are providing more resources, both in manpower and financially, to try to combat terrorism and the potential dangers to the community at large".

A statement issued by Scibor-Kaminski lists numerous Australia police forces, government departments and agencies as "long term customers" and references the Australian Customs Service as running "up to 120,000 searches per month".

A spokesman for Customs and Justice Minister Chris Ellison confirmed that Customs currently uses the system, but heavily pruned Scibor-Kaminski's estimates.

"Customs' estimate of its use of DtMS is about 15,000 searches per month.

"Customs is unable to confirm the source of the estimate that it may be using the [DtMS] system for 120,000 searches per month, but it is possible that this may have been an estimate that was provided to potential vendors as an upper limit requirement for systems capability. It does not reflect actual systems usage by Customs," the spokesman said.

Other agencies cited strict guidelines forbidding public discussion of intelligence capability or collection methodology.

Telstra subsidiary Sensis was making no apologies for its protracted legal brawl with DtMS. Sensis spokesperson Karina White said the matter was as much about safeguarding the privacy of Australians as any copyright that Telstra held on the information about them.

White said accusations that Sensis' reverse-directory service prices were inflated ignored the production and maintenance costs worn by Sensis' and Telstra.

"Such services are offered on a cost recovery basis," White said, adding there were legitimate privacy reasons as to why access to such searches were restricted.

"It's our data and we have successfully proved we have added value to it," White said.

A decision on compensation to be paid to Telstra will be made by the Federal Court in September this year.

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