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Mr. Kastenmeier. The questions seem to be relatively simple: Should companies have Caller ID? Then, if the answer is yes, should they have a blocking device? Those are the two large technical issues. But as you have pointed out, there are a series of side commentaries about alternative technologies that do coexist with those two technologies—Caller ID and the blocking technology. The question is, what is the state of the law and, then, do we need Federal legislation? Can we rely on State public utility commissions to resolve this from State to State? Can we have a system nationally that has different systems within different areas? That is to say, some with blocking devices and some without blocking devices? Who should make that determination? There really are quite a few questions.
Let me ask you first about the need for Federal legislation. Do you see the need for some Federal legislation, notwithstanding how we might come to a conclusion about the utility of blocking devices, or the necessity of them, in terms of privacy? Do you think Federal legislation is needed in this area?
Mr. Kohl. I think so, because it seems to me the issue needs to be resolved on a level that will apply to every State. I would not consider it to be satisfactory to have some States with blocking authorized and legal and other States without it. There is also the question of interstate phone calls, and how do you handle that if you don't have a single piece of legislation that covers the legitimacy of blocking nationwide?
Mr. Kastenmeier. We obviously currently see the roles of public utility commissions and State legislatures, but nationally, does the FCC have a role in this as well? Have they acted on the subject, as far as you know?
Mr. Kohl. I'm not familiar with any action they've taken.
Mr. Kastenmeier. Frankly, I'm not either. We certainly want to explore that.
Much of this will be anecdotal in terms of utility, as far as law enforcement needs and, as you point out, obscene phone calls. How do you protect people from disclosure when they make a call and do they have a legitimate right to be protected from having their phone numbers being disclosed upon making a telephone call?
How do you respond to the anecdote of the gentleman from Virginia where, without a blocking device, a couple was able to discover who broke into their house because they had Caller ID? Mr. Slaughter went on to say, had the perpetrators had a blocking device and used it, they would not have been able to discover who the thieves there.
Mr. Kohl. I think it's important to recognize that we're not talking 100 percent either way. We're not talking about a clear issue of Caller ID with blocking being perfect and the other way being totally imperfect. There's a balance that we're looking for. Certainly those who favor no blocking may be able to bring up one or two or three instances where the point is well-taken.
But when you talk about balancing all the competing interests in this country, balancing the need and the legitimacy of people not wanting to have their phone number displayed every time they make a phone call, whether they like it or not, it just seems to me that the overall equity and fairness clearly comes down on the case of offering blocking.
With respect to obscene phone calls, as you know, blocking does not rule out in any way referring an obscene phone call to the police station immediately for action. If you get an obscene phone call, you just press three digits and that phone call is immediately referred to the police. They are on the phone talking with this obscene caller in a matter of seconds. So I think in most every case fairness and equity comes down on the side of Caller ID with blocking, rather than Caller ID without blocking.
I think the fact that telephone companies for the most part, all across the country, are now voluntarily offering blocking with Caller ID is some indication that even they, who are running companies for profit, recognize that they need to offer blocking with Caller ID.
Another thing. I have never understood why they have offered unlisted phone numbers for so long and recognized that it was a value and a need in our society, and all of a sudden they come along with a new technology and make the argument—and not all of them are—but make the argument that unlisted phone numbers are no longer of any value or need in our society. I guess there's an inconsistency there that I find hard to fully comprehend.
Mr. Kastenmeier. I thank my friend.
The gentleman from California, Mr. Moorhead.
Mr. Moorhead. Thank you.
You know, Senator, it would seem to me that if you have Caller ID and a blocking device, it would be totally unfair, the fact that the call was blocked the information was not given to the recipient of the phone call. I would question receiving a phone call from someone who wanted to block out their number, unless you happen to be a certain kind of agency that was anxious to get every call that came in. If someone wouldn't let you know where they were calling from, why should you want to talk to him?
Mr. Kohl. You don't have to.
Mr. Moorhead. But some systems are going to have blocking devices and some aren't. Some people that call will have that capability and others will not. So if they do have that capability to block and they do block, you surely on the other end ought to be able to see it on your phone that it is blocked and be able to reject the call.
Mr. Kohl. You will have
Mr. Moorhead. There would be a disadvantage to the person on one side that would know which number he called; they would know all about you; you wouldn't know anything about him, or who the call was coming from.
Mr. Kohl. You mean if he blocks.
Mr. Moorhead. If he blocks.
Mr. Kohl. Then you don't have to pick up the phone.
Mr. Moorhead. But if some systems have a blocking device and others do not, unless your phone would reflect the call was blocked, you wouldn't know whether he had blocked it or not.
Mr. Kohl. Right. Well, if I understand, what we're requiring is that all systems—that's the purpose of our Federal legislation—is that all systems that have Caller ID have blocking.
Mr. Moorhead. Then would the other people have the ability to see that it's blocked on their own phone?
Mr. Kohl. The recipient?
Mr. Moorhead. Yes.
Mr. Kohl. The recipient would know when his telephone rings, if he has Caller ID. If his telephone rings and there is no number on his little device, he knows that
Mr. Moorhead. Then he can reject the call or put it on a tape, as you indicated.
Mr. Kohl. Yes. He can pick up the phone, not pick up the phone, or tape the phone call. But he would know that the caller is blocking their number. Then he has a choice.
Mr. Moorhead. It would seem to me, because there can be calls coming from outside the United States or outside the area, that there would be exceptions. It would be much better to require that it shows it is blocked.
Mr. Kohl. Yes. I guess that's another reason why we think there needs to be a single piece of legislation in this country to cover Caller ID, so that you will know in every case that if it's a block, it's a block.
Mr. Moorhead. Thank you.
Mr. Kastenmeier. The gentleman from Oklahoma, Mr. Synar.
Mr. Synar. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Herb, I want to thank you. I think that your statement summarized probably better than I have ever heard the whole issue of this Caller ID and the importance of why we have to provide this blocking.
As is too often the case, when issues first hit, people seem to center in on one issue. With the advertisements on obscene calls, many of us who support this legislation have been held out as being ones who believe that abusive and obscene calls should be OK. I think your statement clearly points out why that is not the case.
I think it's important that you also point out that people do have the right to privacy when they call their Senate office, when they call the IRS, or, if they're in an abuse center, not to have that number revealed. What we're trying to do with this legislation is to try and protect that privacy while also recognizing that there will be opportunities to solve the second problem of obscene calls through the present technology. So I want to commend you for that statement.
I hope that we can get the telephone companies, who seem very supportive of the effort by their voluntary efforts, to help us fashion the advertising which will get a lot more viewership than what we do here today, to really help us sell this message, because I think they want the same types of things.
I can tell you a story about coming here—I'm sure you're in the same situation—when you get here early in the morning and sometimes you answer your own phone because nobody is here. During the height of one of the debates a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in my office and a guy called me. He was yelling and screaming, saying "You tell that jackass Synar that I'm mad as hell at him on the way he's going to vote today." I said, "I'll do that." He says, "you tell that jackass Synar that I'm going to make sure in the next election that he's going to hear from me." I said, "I'll tell him that." He says, "How do I know you're going to tell that jackass Synar?" I says, "You're talking to the jackass." The phone went "click."
Mr. Kohl. That was me, Congressman.
Mr. Synar. I would have liked to have had his number. But the fact is, he has the right, as a citizen of this country, to call me up, with the privacy of not identifying himself, and calling me a jackass. That's a right that I think is a very important right to protect. So I want to thank you for your leadership in this, which is very critical. We appreciate it.
Mr. Kohl. I appreciate that.
Mr. Kastenmeier. Does the gentlemen from Virginia have a question?
Mr. Slaughter. No questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Kastenmeier. If the gentlemen from Virginia or North Carolina do not have questions, we know that you need to return to the judicial hearings on the other side, which are very important. We appreciate, Senator Kohl, your appearance as a leadoff witness here today. Good luck to you, sir.
Mr. Kohl. Thank you.
Mr. Kastenmeier. Next I would like to introduce and greet a panel of witnesses. First we will hear from Andrew Poat, Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs, which represents consumer interests in domestic policy development for the administration. We will also hear from Stephen Moore, public counsel for the Illinois Office of Public Counsel, which represents the interests of consumers in the State of Illinois. Mr. Moore is also on the executive committee of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates and will testify on that association's behalf today.
Gentlemen, we welcome you here this morning. Mr. Poat, would you care to go first?
STATEMENT OF ANDREW L. POAT, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS, ACCOMPANIED BY PATRICIA FALEY, DIRECTOR OF CONSUMER AND INDUSTRY RELATIONS, AND NICKIE A. ATHANASON-DYMERSKY, GENERAL COUNSEL, OFFICE OF SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT FOR CONSUMER AFFAIRS
Mr. Poat. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am Andrew Poat, Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs. With me today are Pat Faley, Director of Consumer and Industry Relations, and Nickie Athanason-Dymersky, our General Counsel. We appreciate the opportunity to appear at this hearing today to share an administration perspective on new telecommunications services.
When we first learned about Caller ID just about 1 year ago, our reaction mirrored what we believe to be the first impression of most consumers—here is a valuable new tool with which we may better manage certain intrusive aspects of home telephone service.
Since that time, a national debate has ensued regarding the privacy implications that accompany this technology. Even so, we continue to be very impressed with Caller ID. Quite simply, consumers want it.
In the interest of brevity, permit me to associate myself with the remarks of the Senator from Wisconsin regarding the benefits of Caller ID for residential use.
Additionally, however, I would like to raise a second area in which associated technology is going to be very important, and that is automatic number identification. This is the commercial version of Caller ID and it also has a value to consumers and to business. When an individual calls a company with an inquiry or complaint, for example, ANI can help speed up responses by giving service representatives instantaneous access to customer account information. The efficiency gains which businesses will realize through this sort of technology offer further testament to the value of Caller Identification.
Clearly, then, we do not underestimate the benefits of Caller ID. Neither, however, do we underestimate its privacy implications. Concern about privacy is both high and sustained.
The recently released Harris poll found that four in five Americans are concerned about threats to their personal privacy. And so, as President Bush has warned, we cannot take these concerns lightly.
Why do Caller ID and ANI raise privacy concerns? They do so because they disclose the phone number of nearly every phone caller without regard to those who have an unlisted number or a specific, legitimate need to prevent disclosure. In some instances, that need is frequent, as with physicians who wish to return calls from patients from their homes during the evening, and yet do not wish to reveal their private phone numbers, or undercover police detectives who need to protect their identity. Teachers, too, often have a need to call parents and should be able to do so without putting their home phone number at risk of being misused by students.
The point is, blocking cannot and should not be viewed solely as the last bastion of protection for telephone harassers. Examples of reasonable uses include not only those I have mentioned but also those who are making anonymous tips to the police, calling drug abuse, suicide and other help lines, and perhaps when calling 800 and 900 numbers.
Permit me to explain that last example. The market for information about our buying preferences, lifestyles and spending habits is burgeoning. The immense technical barriers that once kept data bases of this information separate have been laid flat. In the process, our telephone number has become a speedway connecting our name and address to a great deal of personal information.
In fact, one of the principal uses of ANI is to permit marketers to automatically capture telephone numbers when consumers call, and to match those numbers to databases of information about those callers.
On the surface, it would appear that the Caller ID debate comes down to our right of privacy versus our right to know who's calling. But looking deeper, we see that the parameters of these rights vary greatly, not so much from person to person, but from call to call. Certainly, no one wishes to give obscene phone callers the right to