With the FCC on Our Side

The good folks at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have just given the telephone companies the permission to sell personal information about each of its customers, including their identity and calling habits without prior consent. The information would be of obvious value to companies offering services such as long distance. However, it would also no doubt be of great aid to telemarketers who would just love to know when we are routinely at home and might have a free moment to spare.

In defending the decision, FCC Chairman Michael Powell managed to trivialize growing concerns over privacy issue as succinctly as anyone has to this date: "consumers have a reduced expectation of privacy...." And I have a "reduced expectation" of political appointees, but that doesn't stop me from hoping for reasonable, fair minded individuals in positions of power.

The article quotes Aberdeen Group's senior analyst Dana Tardelli: "I'm generally disappointed with the decision. Yes, you need to address the situation, but the opt-out approach is weak, and it is certainly a loss for consumer privacy." I wouldn't exactly call Aberdeen Group the bastion of modern consumer rights, and even they seem discouraged by the FCC's decision.

Until 1999, it was required that telecommunications companies acquire your consent before sharing your personal information. This is called an opt-in approach. It was at that time that a court ruled in favor of U.S. West, proclaiming that the opt-in approach violated U.S. West's right to share customer's personal information under the first amendment, the freedom of speech.

As thrilled as I am to find that at least someone still gets to exercise their first amendment right, I fail to see how asking my permission before sharing information about who I call and when for monetary gain is a violation of anyone's freedom of speech. This is not journalistic reporting we're talking about. It is telemarketing, and somehow I can't help but feel that the telemarketers have more rights than I do.


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