Privacy, DNC Are Talk of Show

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WASHINGTON -- The focus was on the Federal Trade Commission's proposed national do-not-call list, spam and privacy legislation, and telemarketing issues at last week's 2002 Government Affairs Conference here.


Direct marketers should ensure they are "doing the right thing" when it comes to handling customer data, DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen told attendees at the opening luncheon. The Direct Marketing Association, the Internet Alliance and the DMA Nonprofit Federation sponsored the conference.


Nearly 1,500 bills have been introduced at all levels of government in the past two years seeking to regulate marketing information under the privacy umbrella, he said.


One of the most recent is online privacy legislation from Senate commerce committee chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-SC, that would prohibit companies from transferring sensitive personal information unless individuals opted in for such a transfer. The bill is scheduled for markup May 15.


Wientzen also commented on a bill expected this week from Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-FL, that would limit the use of Social Security numbers for marketing purposes and create costly notice requirements for online and offline solicitations.


Wientzen criticized anti-spam legislation expected in a few weeks from Sen. Conrad Burns, R-MT.


"From what we know about this one, it could be called the 'Guilt by Association Act' because, in effect, it would punish legitimate senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail for the sins of the fly-by-night spammers and pornographers," he said.


Insiders said the bill enjoys enough support to win Senate commerce committee approval when it comes up for a committee vote, tentatively scheduled for May 16.


On the FTC's proposed national do-not-call list, Wientzen said preventing such a list would be difficult because "public opinion is most assuredly not on the industry's side."


Howard Beales, FTC Consumer Protection Bureau director, told attendees at a session that "I recognize that the DMA and other organizations have both experienced and valuable insights into the need for, costs and feasibility of the proposed rule. I can assure you that we are carefully reviewing all of the comments we have received, and we are looking forward to input from the DMA and other industry members at our upcoming workshop in June."


Beales fielded questions, including several about potential gaps in the FTC's jurisdiction, such as some intrastate telemarketers and banks. However, Beales said he hopes the Federal Communications Commission follows with a similar rule that would greatly expand jurisdiction.


FCC commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, who spoke at another session, said the agency is monitoring the FTC's do-not-call list proposal and will participate in the FTC workshop on the issue in June. She did not come out for or against the proposal, saying instead that the FCC looked into a similar proposal in the past "and we didn't do it."


Abernathy also said predictive dialing and other telemarketing practices are being monitored closely this year by the FCC.


"I know that there may be an increase in productivity on the part of predictive dialers," she said, "but we are getting a whole lot of complaints at the FCC about predictive dialers from consumers, and we want you to be aware of that."


But she made it clear the FCC has no plans to regulate predictive dialers and that many questions would have to be answered before such a change could be considered.


Abernathy also said that the FCC is intensifying the actions of its enforcement bureau. For example, it is enforcing slamming violations closely. In the past year, she said, the commission has levied more than $13 million in fines and consent decrees against companies engaging in slamming.


Internet tax was also discussed at the conference.


Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, told attendees that direct marketers and Congress must begin gearing up for the next steps on the Internet taxation issue. He supports a permanent ban on Internet taxes.


"The clock is ticking away on the two-year extension that we achieved last year," he said, "so we and you need to be fashioning a plan right now about how to address this issue."


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