Life of the Do-Not-Call List
By Scott Spicciati Editor | Scott's Archive
September 30, 2003

President Bush may no longer have the same number of war-supporters he did back in March, but he does have 50 pissed off Americans tired of being interrupted by pesky telemarketers at dinnertime. In a rare move that can only be described as bipartisan, Congress quickly passed a bill to President Bush who signed it into law giving the Federal Trade Commission the authority to regulate the do-not-call list, a roster of 50 million telephone numbers that is supposed to keep telemarketers and solicitors at a distance.

The do-not-call list, which was compiled by the FTC, is currently in jeopardy because it has so far been blocked by two federal judges. Stepping up in support of the FTC is the Federal Communications Commission, an organization which has said it would seek fines of up to $120,000 against telemarketers each time they call people on the registry.

Both rulings against the FTC came last week within a period of just two days. U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham ruled late Thursday that the list violated the First Amendment because it applied to calls from commercial organizations but not to those from charities. That ruling followed the verdict by Judge Lee West who said Wednesday that the Federal Trade Commission did not have the authority to manage the list in the first place.

The do-not-call list has only a few opponents as both Republicans and Democrats worked together to push the legislation through. The vote was 412-8 in the House and a perfect 95-0 in the Senate, which gave Bush the opportunity to sign it into law as quickly as possible.

But does Mr. Bush himself see the necessity of the do-not-call list? At a White House ceremony, he didn't seem too enthusiastic about the legislation, nor has he ever spoken against telemarketers invading privacy rights prior to the creation of the do-not-call list.

"The public is understandably losing patience with these unwanted phone calls, unwanted intrusions. Given a choice, Americans prefer not to receive random sales pitches at all hours of the day. The American people should be free to restrict these calls."

This couldn't have come at a better time for Bush who is currently losing support in almost every aspect of his presidency, from the war on terrorism to his handling of the economy, and now a possible scandal involving Bush's aids revealing the identity of a CIA agent who undermined Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.

Regardless of how those events turn out, at least by next year President Bush will be able to say he successfully passed legislation aimed at putting an end to those ridiculous solicitations, where a caller on the other line who can barely speak English congratulates you on pre-qualifying for a new credit card. Just what you need.

This new law is a good one because people have a right to their privacy, and it should not be violated by telemarketers when they were specifically told not to. It doesn't get any simpler than that. Why would telemarketers want to call numbers on that list anyway when it's a sure no-sale? If anything, telemarketers can benefit by not wasting their time calling individuals who don't want to be bothered. Surly anyone who has taken the time to put their number on that list will not be convinced by a salesman reading from a script that he/she needs that new credit card or that new magazine subscription, or that new insurance coverage.

There are however, a few problems with this near-perfect legislation that need to be worked out. The do-not-call list works by requiring telemarketers to pay for a copy of the list so they can know who to avoid calling. While many telemarketers have the list, some do not because the recent court rulings have made it unavailable. And because the FCC can only penalize telemarketers who have the list, they will have a hard time prosecuting those who don't.

There is only one way to properly enforce the law, and that is to require every telemarketing firm to own the do-not-call list as soon as it's completely worked out and free from judicial blocks. It should be the responsibility of the telemarketers to possess the list and know who they can and cannot call.

Another problem is that the do-not-call list doesn't apply to charities. Charities who solicit households are just as guilty as the salesmen pushing their product because that person never requested to be contacted. The idea of supporting a charity is giving to a worthy cause because you like what they do, not because they coerced you into writing them a check while you were trying to put the kids to bed. Both commercial organizations and charities need to respect the list.

Pollsters and politicians are exempt from adhering to the list but that is OK. Polling companies such as Neilson Media Research provide invaluable research that reflect the opinions of our country and determine the direction that we're headed in. Plus, participants can always decline and not feel pressured by the guy on the other line working on commission. As for politicians, they only know we exist during election month so hearing from them once every couple of years shouldn't be much of an intrusion on your privacy.

So with those few stipulations I support the do-not-call list and congratulate Mr. Bush on a quick and decisive victory. Let's just hope the courts back off soon and allow the FTC to do their work.

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