As most everyone in Indiana knows, our state has an extremely popular, not to mention effective, telephone privacy system, also known at the Do Not Call law. As the author of this legislation, I am very proud of the way it has virtually eliminated unwanted, intrusive phone calls from the telemarketing industry. At last count, more than half of the state's residential phone numbers were registered with the attorney general's office, totalling more than 1.3 million numbers.
Until now, anti-telemarketing laws were the province of the various states. Many states have copied the law we passed in Indiana (which remains the toughest in the nation), though some states have been unable to get such a law passed because of the effective full court press of the telemarketing lobbyists.
As a reaction to this inability to get a law passed, some federal lawmakers decided that a national telemarketing law should be created. Such a law was recently passed and signed by President Bush. Unfortunately, this law is much weaker than the one we passed in Indiana, and signing up on this national list is going to cause Indiana phone owners to wish, very quickly, that they hadn't. Here's why.
When we passed our law in Indiana, it was after two years of hard work, during which time we found that to allow certain exemptions for certain businesses could undercut the entire effectiveness of the law, and render it virtually toothless. For example, if we had allowed the phone companies and financial companies to have an exemption, then the worst violators of our phone privacy, i.e. credit card companies and long distance phone companies, would have full access to our phone lines with no restrictions. Worse, anyone that was legally affiliated with your financial company or phone company could also do business with you. For example, your bank owns an interest in a stock brokerage, or owns a part of an insurance company. Now, you can be contacted by a stockbroker working for that company, or a life insurance salesman. They would be exempt from the list.
Well, guess what? The federal law allows financial institutions and telecommunications companies to call you at will. They are totally exempted from the federal "Do Not Call" list.
Also, the federal list allows any company that has done business with you in the past 18 months to contact you without violating the law. Again, this opens the door to any number of unwanted phone calls.
Basically, it is my opinion that the national do not call list is worthless. It will allow huge volumes of calls from the very companies we don't want to hear from. By contrast, the Indiana law is much, much stronger.
Finally, there is also the question of the effective enforcement of this new federal law. Here in Indiana, our law has been effective because our Attorney General, Steve Carter, has been absolutely relentless in making sure the law is obeyed by the telemarketing industry. By showing he means business, and fining several high profile violators early on when the law first took effect, Steve Carter made sure the "Do Not Call" list worked.
He also established an easy way to sign up on the "Do Not Call" list, which is why, as I said earlier, over half the residential phones in Indiana are now protected.
Contrast this with the federal "Do Not Call" list, where there is no assurance that their list will ever be effectively enforced.
A concern remains that the Federal Communications Commission might still try to say that the new federal law is king, and that all state anti-telemarketing laws are now unenforceable. This would be a huge victory for the telemarketers, and a real loss for the people, were this to occur. However, Attorney General Carter has gone to Washington D.C., along with other state attorney generals, to argue that the FCC should keep its hands off the state laws, and allow the national list to co-exist rather than replace the many state laws around the country. This way, if the state law were tougher, it would be the law that would prevail. If for some reason the FCC still tries to undermine our law, I plan to ask Attorney General Carter to fight the federal action, and I will join with him in a court action against the FCC, if necessary. Lets hope it doesn't have to happen, but if it does, I plan to fight for our law, and for our privacy rights.
Until we learn otherwise, our state law remains in full force and effect. If you haven't yet signed up on the "Do Not Call" list, or you know someone who would like to do so, you can access the sign-up list via the Internet, at www.in.gov/attorneygeneral.