Editorial: Oh, the Irony

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Imagine the media circus we'd be in right now if the Direct Marketing Association had just launched its Telephone Preference Service and someone came across a loophole in the system that allows anyone to see who has signed up for it. Privacy advocates would be up in arms. State attorneys general would be screaming their heads off. Federal regulators would be calling the DMA every five minutes. Lawmakers would throw caution to the wind and pass legislation in a day ordering the DMA to fix it. And President Bush would have a ceremony in the Rose Garden telling Americans it's their God-given right not to have their dinner interrupted by telemarketers.

Well, no one -- not the media or our government officials -- cared much that the Hartford Courant found a way around the Federal Trade Commission's system, though the FTC said it was working to rectify the situation. Yeah, just like how the FTC says it takes days to shut down the registry site. The media just thought it was ironic that 11 DMA executives don't want telemarketing calls, though that is pretty ironic. JetBlue's recent privacy no-no got way more scrutiny.

Beyond all this, FTC chief Tim Muris needs to spend more time fixing the verification process he created instead of badmouthing telemarketers every chance he gets -- and he used every one of them during a Senate committee hearing last week. A comment from Dean Rodney Smolla, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, at the hearing showed just how hypocritical our elected officials are. Smolla warned that Congress might have to change the registry's rules by allowing consumers to block all calls -- political and fundraising as well as commercial -- or letting them decide what kinds of calls they want to block. This caused Sen. Ron Wyden to say it might be "an uphill challenge" to get Congress to authorize such a program. Now isn't that ironic? Remind me not to move to Oregon.

If Joe Public signed up for the list because he doesn't want calls for more credit cards, he certainly isn't going to want calls from two-faced politicians asking for donations. He's still under the assumption that his phone will remain silent. USAToday.com had my favorite headline last week: "No-Call List an Official Mess." It's a mess all right. Consumers don't know when the calling will stop. Ultimately, it looks like the Supreme Court will get to make that call.


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