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Congress must pass cell privacy bill before 411 directory published

Congress Should Pass Cell Phone Number Privacy Bill
Before Wireless Industry Launches 411 Directory

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004
Susanna Montezemolo
(202) 462-6262
(Washington, D.C.) — Congress should immediately pass a law to give cell phone customers control over their phone numbers before the wireless industry launches a proposed 411 directory in the coming months, Consumers Union urged today in written testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.
“Consumers want control over who gets their cell phone number, and they should decide, not the wireless industry,” said Susanna Montezemolo, legislative analyst with Consumers Union, the independent, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Consumers don’t want to pay fees to stay out of the directory, and they shouldn’t have to. It’s not enough to merely rely on industry promises to protect privacy, since such voluntary protections could easily disappear in the future.”
Consumers Union is supporting S. 1963, the “Wireless 411 Privacy Act,” because the bill would make law some privacy protections rather than relying on industry promises to do so. The bill, which is to be considered today by the full Senate Commerce Committee, prohibits charging new fees for unlisted numbers and gives consumers discretion whether to list their number.
However, Consumers Union is urging that the legislation be strengthened through an amendment to require that all customers affirmatively “opt-in” to the directory in writing. As filed, the legislation creates a dual system of obtaining consumers’ permission to have their cell phone numbers listed in the directory. Current customers would have to affirmatively opt into the directory, while new customers would have their numbers included in the directory unless they opted-out.
“Putting new customers’ cell phone numbers into the directory by default jeopardizes privacy and makes them pay for unwanted calls,” said Montezemolo. “A total opt-in approach would give all customers the same high level of privacy protection and reduce consumer confusion.”
The directory is expected to reap billions for the cell phone industry — based on anticipated revenues from callers to the 411 directory service and more calls being connected. “Because most cell phone customers pay for their incoming calls, consumer control over their number should be viewed through the lens of both privacy and out-of-pocket costs,” Montezemolo said.
Through Consumers Union’s popular education campaign, EscapeCellHell.org, more than 15,000 grassroots activists have e-mailed their senators and representative about the importance of protecting consumer privacy that could be jeopardized by a wireless 411 directory.
Click here to read CU’s testimony on the bill.