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Calif Gov signs bill on cell number privacy; Congress considers same

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004
Janee Briesemeister: 512-477-4431, ext 117
Susanna Montezemolo, 202-462-6262, ext 1103

Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Bill to Protect Californians’ Cell Phone Number Privacy; Congress Considering National Measure

House Commerce Committee to Hold Hearing on Wireless 411 Bill Wednesday

Californians will have the right to decide for themselves whether their cell phone number is listed in a planned wireless 411 directory under a new bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Schwarzenegger, and Congress also is considering whether to give all Americans the same privacy protections.
“California is the first state to approve this important consumer privacy measure, and we commend Governor Schwarzenegger for signing this into law,” said Janee Briesemeister, director of Consumers Union’s EscapeCellHell.org campaign. “Congress should enact a similar national law because consumers across the country, not only Californians, deserve these protections.”
The House Commerce Committee will consider H.R. 3558, The “Wireless 411 Privacy Act,” at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with a news conference planned just before the hearing at 9:30 a.m., on the Cannon Terrace.
The Senate Commerce Committee last week approved S. 1963, which would allow consumers to control their cell numbers and prohibit wireless companies from charging new fees to keep their number private. The Senate bill was successfully amended by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to require both existing and new customers “opt-in” – give their permission first – before being included in the directory.
The House bill would require existing customers to opt-in, but new customers would still be included in the directory unless they told their carrier not to include them. Consumers Union is advocating for the House to approve the same amended bill as the Senate.
“All customers should have the right to give their permission first before having their phone number made public,” said Susanna Montezemolo, policy analyst with Consumers Union.
Cell phone numbers currently are private, yet the Cellular Telephone and Internet Association is planning to launch a 411 directory within the coming months. The trade association has said that it will obtain customers’ permission for inclusion in the directory and not charge fees, but that promise is voluntary and there’s no guarantee for consumers unless placed into law.
The California law requires wireless carriers to get express written consent first and prohibits charging customers not to be included in the 411 directory. In his signing message, the Governor indicated that he believed the written consent provision was “over burdensome” in the age of electronic commerce and that he hoped to work with the legislature to ease that requirement next year. Consumer groups disagree.
“We believe the consent provision is essential and should be preserved,” said Briesemeister. “Existing federal law already enables consumers to sign contracts online so this should not be an issue for wireless companies.”