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New at Reason: Jacob Sullum hangs up on the national do-not-call registry.


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  1. My wife is a Widow and whenever we would get a telemarketing call asking for her dead husband, we would politely informed them that they were deceased.

    At first this worked great, however over time, they began to say, “ohh, well is the decision maker of the home available?”

    We have since asked to be put on our states do not call list and the silence is beaufiful.



  2. Another aside, if you ever get the chance to listen to the comedy CD “Revenge on the Telemarketers” I highly recommend that. It is absolutely hysterical.



  3. and the telemarketing the taliban into surrender one was priceless, too!


  4. Anybody know if there are any special rules for cell phones? I don’t get telemarketers on my cell phone, and if I did, I’d be pissed off because I have to pay for the airtime on incoming calls too. Other people I’ve talked to have had the same experience… anybody know if this is true in general, and, if so, why?

  5. Calling my phone rings a bell in my house.

    Say we were talking about my doorbell: For an ordinary person to come up to my door and ring it would not be out of bounds. But if I specifically have a sign saying “no solicitors” then people ringing my doorbell to sell stuff are trespassing.

    What’s wrong with having a “no solicitors” sign for another bell in my house? Seems like a simple matter of property rights.

  6. lemme guess, getting rid of telemarketing would make this a dead ringer?


  7. I’m not sure what the rules are exactly, but I get the impression that there is a prohibition on calling cell phones (either by law or as a matter of good policy).

    I occasionally (4 or 5 times in the past year) get telemarketing calls on my cell, because it is the only phone I have, and as such is what I list as my “home” number when I have to furnish one.

    When I’ve gotten those calls, I’ve politely asked the marketer where they got the number (they never know, but it throws them off their sales pitch and allows me to get a word in), and then inform them that they’ve called a cell phone. Without exception, they’ve apologized and ended the call, and I’ve never heard from the same company twice.

  8. My favourite routine for telemarketers was to ask them “Can you hang on for a second… I’ll be right back.”

    I’d set the phone down and go about my business. The loud beeping on the line would let me know that they’d given up on me. I always enjoyed letting them experience the pleasure of having their valuable time wasted.

    Since I’ve switched to a cell phone only, I’ve really and truly missed the telemarketers calls.

  9. The worst telemarketing is actually from my credit card. They always have some sort of “promotional savings program” for one thing or another. They’re only going to enroll me in the free trial, but if I don’t cancel it I’ll be billed for subsequent months. So when they call me I have to argue with them for a while to persuade them that I’m not interested in their promotion, otherwise I’ll get enrolled and billed before I know it.

    Even worse, last week I got a call that there were some suspect purchases and I needed to call my credit card company right back. So I call them, and the purchases were legit but apparently not part of our regular pattern of purchases. But before they’d look up my file to see which purchases raised a red flag they said I can enroll in some sort of program. I said no, they started arguing with me about why I should enroll in this program, finally I said I’d sign up for the free trial if they’d just look up my record and tell me which purchases raised a red flag.

    Now I have to wait for them to send me the paperwork to cancel the “free trial” and hope it arrives before the “free” phase expires.

    The things I put up with for a large credit line and 1% cash back…

  10. If they simply made telemarketers pay the line access charges and the taxes that are a part of my phone bill I wouldn’t mind telemarketing calls. I’d even say thanks before hanging up on them.

  11. I agree with at least some of Jarrett’s argument. These “Do Not Call” lists are a form of “No Soliciting” signs, and telemarketers do engage in a form of tresspass when they continue to call, even when asked not to.

    Yes, I do screen my calls with an answering machine. And yes, I do leave messages that say in no uncertain terms that I DO NOT accept ANY telemarketing calls. That has not stopped the telemarketers, however. Even when I employ the latest techniques, including using the same tones one would find in the TeleZapper, telemarketers continue to call at all times of the day.

    Problem #1: some telemarketers use computer programs that spew forth pre-recorded messages. These computer programs do not differenciate between a human answering the phone and another machine picking up the line. They also cannot heed my own “No Soliciting” message. They’re programmed to play the pre-recorded message and then log in that a connection was made, so that number is still good to be used again.

    Problem #2: most telemarketers block caller ID, so there is no way we can trace the call back to them. I’m sure I wouldn’t mind seeing in advance whether or not they are a telemarketer, but I seriously doubt it would cut down on the number of times they pester people. In fact, it might even give them the excuse to pester us even MORE.

    Problem #3: Yes, my state has a “Do Not Call” registry as well, and we pay $5 for the service. Unfortunately this does not cover out-of-state telemarketers, which I’m sure is the case with the other 29 states that also have their own “Do Not Call” programs. Calling rates are such that telemarketers can afford to skirt state laws by simply moving to states that do not have such registries and then calling away. This is the only reason why the federal government is being asked to step in, because it HAS become an interstate affair.

  12. thoreau, is that a Capital One card? Their customer service was terrible; it’s the only credit card company I’ve sworn never to use again. Anyway, there are a *lot* of companies around, and some of them offer *great* customer service. And since I no longer have a groundline phone, not only do I not get telemarketer calls, but I also don’t have to deal with Pacific Bell, who are even worse than Capital One.

    Oh, on the topic, it seems to me that the best solution to annoying telemarketers might be to dump the landline and get with a mobile.

  13. Telemarketing is another consequence of the general stupidity that afflicts the bulk of the population. If they couldn’t cover the cost of calling, they wouldn’t call. Which means there must be plenty of idiots out there.

    The results of every election, and in fact every campaign is another illustration of rampant stupidity.

  14. No one put a gun to your head to have a telephone in your house. Tell the phone company to stop the telemarketers or you’ll cancel the service. (Lots of phone companies want to rid themselves of POTS lines anyway.)

    Why do we need a law for this and a separate law for spam? Aren’t they the same thing?

    Why is the Professional Bowlers Association calling people anyway?

  15. If I ever get a telemarketer asking me if I want to subscribe to Reason Magazine…

  16. Someone is going to have to explain to me what the fuss is all about regarding this list? Don’t people voluntarily opt-in to it?

  17. Andy-

    It’s an AT&T Universal Card, offered via Citibank. The service used to be great up until 3 years ago or so.

    I have an card as well, offered through BankOne. So far they haven’t bugged me, but then I again I don’t spend much money with them. I only use it on Amazon where I get extra cash back if I use the card. Maybe I’ll start using my Amazon card more, and if they still don’t harass me I’ll dump the other card.

  18. Thoreau, well I don’t know too much about Citibank, but Bank One (formerly First USA) has been very good, though they’ll try to hit you up with “special” offers now and then (mostly through the mail, which I don’t mind so much). When I went to Europe for about a month, I had to call my credit card people to make sure my lack of payment would be ok. Capital One was impossible to deal with and I ended up paying late charges; First USA told me it would be taken care of no problem, and it was… very easy. The free market works best for proactive people:)

  19. “at the risk of … hanging up on my mother when she calls from Jerusalem.”

    oh my. that’s a double-down on your trip across the river styx…

    taking the call and pretending to be of some strange ethnicity, a la serge from beverly hills cop is a fun one. interrupt with a panicked “humphrey! do not do that to the dog! get off the dog! please to must go” and hang up.

    or just check the caller id…

    whatever. 🙂

  20. I don’t find this issue as straightforward as either those who favor the do-not-call registry or those who regard it as unconstitutional. For me it raises questions like, what sort of property rights do we have regarding our telephone numbers? Is that numeric code that allows access to our telephones a piece of intellectual property that we lease from the telephone company? Do we have any rights regarding its distribution? Certainly, we can choose to have it unlisted, but that is a part of the mutually voluntary relationship between the consumer and the phone company, as far as I know. Should we have to explicitly authorize its distribution when we provide it for commercial purposes? Certainly it’s highly illegal for anyone to share a person’s credit card number, although the stakes are not the same as with a telephone number. But still, a telephone number allows people to make use of your property, your telephone, without your permission. It also allows people to introduce an entirely unsolicited disturbance into your home. I’m just not sure that the first amendment applies to strangers calling you. Companies have many less intrusive avenues to exercise their speech rights. Some yahoo shouting on your street corner may think he’s excersizing his first amendment rights, but clearly there’s a non-speech component if he’s disturbing people in their homes, and the police can cite or arresst him for disturbing the peace. How is it, then, that telemarketers can claim they are not disturbing the peace, since like the afore-mentioned yahoo, they are introducing unsolicited speech into your home? I’m not arguing for one side or the other, necessarily, I’m just saying that it’s not a black and white issue (well, unless it’s the NAACP calling you to ask for white liberal guilt money, I guess.)

  21. I heard a comment from a representative from a telemarketers trade association on NPR yesterday. He said that he absolutely didn’t want to call anyone who didn’t want to hear from him, but he knew that some 20 – 25% of the 50 million who put their names on the list would buy something from him if he called.

    Very interesting point, and I bet he is right about the numbers, too.

  22. “Still, it seems to me that telemarketing is a nuisance that should be addressed by phone companies, which could prohibit come-ons to customers who don’t want them, threatening to cut off service to offenders.”

    Since telemarketers don?t really call people for fun, it would seem simpler for the phone company to charge customers $20 or so per year to be on a national “Hell will freeze over before I buy ANYTHING from an unsolicited phone call” list. (Paying the service charge indicates you?re serious about it.)

  23. i would definitely pay to be on that list.

    constitutional issues aside, i haven’t been bothered by anyone but the PBA since i put my number on the nystate list three years or so ago. very nice opposed to the three to five times a day i used to get before then.

    people shouldn’t buy things from telemarketers on principle alone.

  24. Unwanted calls by telemarketers are a form of trespass, an invasion of your quiet enjoyment of your property. When people sign on to a “do not call” registry, it’s equivalent to posting a “no trespassing” sign in their yard, or a “no-solicitation” sign at the front door of an apartment complex.
    A trespasser who neverhteless intrudes cannot claim First Amendment protection, because he has no right to invade private property to spread his message, after the owners have made it clear that they do not want to speak with him. It’s certanly a proper function of government in a free society to punish trespassers in order to vindicate individual property rights.
    To me, the only relevant constitutional question is, which government has the authority to do enforce trespassing laws? The federal government has no enumerated power in the Constitution to do so, and the Framers clearly intended to leave general police power in the hands of the states. The enumerated power in the Constitution allowing the federal government to “regulate” interestate Congress, in the way language was used at the time of the Framing, was understood to mean a power to “make regular” interstate commerce–by eliminating tariffs, customs, and other impediments to interstate trade. It was not meant as a power to prohibit, and was first (mis)interpreted that way in the Progressive era.
    In sum, the First Amendment should not be interpreted to prohibit “do not call” registries, but the doctrine of enumerated powers vests the authority to implement them with the states. As long as a state restricts both intrastate and interstate telemarketing without discrimination, there should be no constitutional impediment. And we can all enjoy some peace and quiet.

  25. I signed up for the list, but I sure am going to miss the reverse-prank potential of getting a telemarketer’s call when i’m in a really good (or really bad) mood.
    The fact that telemarketing still exists does make you wonder how many of the folks on the DNC list have made purchases from telemarketing pitches before.

  26. M Bart

    the problem is, while people may sign voluntarily the people who will be punished don’t (remember the big fine).

    This leads some people to question whether the FedGov has the constitutional authority to act (a quick reading of the ACLU/Cato Inst version would say they don’t, but perhaps the legislator’s version says they can)).

  27. The phone is on the sweet end of a telecommunications pipeline, but so is my computer, and so is my TV. If I pay for cable, I still get fed advertisements on it; probably even targeted to me if marketers and demographics do their jobs well; when I pay for ISP service, I get pop-ups. It’s my personal hardware, sure, but I’m not quite buying the private property rights angle.

    Fax machines re required to have an english-language name associated with the number. Anyone have a problem with requiring Telemarketer numbers to have “TELEMARKETER” show up in caller ID? They can call, I can get slightly annoyed and proceed to ignore (just like TV ads, popup windows, etc.)


    You’ve stated the perfect solution to the whole problem. If this requirement passed, a phone would instantly appear on the market (if it isn’t already) that will not ring when the Caller ID reports “TELEMARKETER”.

  29. I am similarly torn between the two sides of this argument. I do believe that the government restricting free speech is a bad enough thing that we should shun even the concept’s shadow. I also believe that people have a right to dictate the use of their property. It kills me everytime the telemarketing industry cries about the X billion dollar loss they would experience because that money is really the aggregation of the time each person who spends on the phone with the telemarketer. We are doing the work FOR them, they make the money. So, wouldn’t it be better making a law that declares each person who is contacted must be compensated if they desire. At the end of the 5 minute spiel or 10 minute questionnaire we could simple say “You’re welcome, when can I expect my check?” Sure, it might be a few pennies, but this would create the disinsentive that is desired without any threat to free speech. What do you all think?

  30. I got into the sick habit of telling the telemarketers, with my best sobby voice, that whomever they were asking for had just passed away. Evil, I know, but somehow very cathartic, especially after hearing their sincere apologies for calling me.

  31. Psst…I’ve got a secret…a sure-fire, guaranteed way to get rid of telemarketers EVERY SINGLE TIME.


    Have we turned into such a nation of cry-babies that we need a freaking federal law and mini-bureaucracy to do for us what we can do ourselves? Of all the things that I think the Congress, the FTC, and the FCC should be involved in (very little), I’ll tell ya: creating, monitoring, and enforcing a Do Not Call list rank very, very, very, very low.

  32. The ham fisted government approach of enforcing telemarketing no-call lists might not only forestall market inspired technological solutions to the problem. It might also stop technological innovation from enhancing and refining telemarketing so you would tend to receive only calls for products and services your interested in hearing about. One can imagine databases and filtering systems being employed in unison to both, target very specific customer interest and reject unwanted pitches. Also, with this greater probability of interest there would be more efficacy in leaving a call back number, giving people the chance talk when they want to.

  33. Rick Barton,

    It may be ham-fisted, but it’s appreciated, nevertheless! That said, I’ve found that my state’s list works just fine.


    Hanging up on them does not undo the effects of having been called in the first place.

    Re Jacob Sullum’s First Amendment argument, sadly he never addresses the issue of unwanted calls being a form of trespass except to dismiss the idea summarily without even explaining why.

    Perhaps Keith, earlier in the thread, makes the most intriguing argument against the idea of trespass on private property, but only by using analogy. I think the difference between the phone ringing and watching TV or using the computer is that the “trespasses” that occur with the latter two can only occur WHEN I have decided to use the property in question, whereas of course a telemarketer’s call can happen anytime. And oddly, Keith recommends a solution that may not be as ham-fisted but is every bit as coercive, seemingly defeating his own argument. Sometimes these issues have to come down to an intuitive interpretation. If it looks like trespass and smells like trespass…

    Jarett Decker makes an interesting argument about constitutionality, but as Julian Sanchez once explained on his personal blog, if the commerce clause only had the purposes Jarett Decker claims, why didn’t the Framers spell that out? That said, state action can deal with the issue most directly as trespass and, as I alluded to earlier, work jess fine, thank you.

  34. fyodor,

    It works fine for you, but is it fair and will it stop the kind of possible technological innovation I described?

    “…if the commerce clause only had the purposes Jarett Decker claims, why didn’t the Framers spell that out?”

    They did in their writings, see: “James Madison and the future of limited government” Ed. John Samples

  35. For the “but it’s a first amendment right” crowd…

    I suppose you’d defend my first amendment right to call you eight or ten times a night, with pre-recorded messages urging you to support statist solutions to common political problems?

    So tell me, would you support my right to do that? I mean, nothing is more core 1st Amendment free speech than that…

    If you wouldn’t support my right to deprive you of sleep, please explain why.

  36. I’ve mentioned this before, but the two things that irk me most about Do-Not-Call are that we now have yet another humongous Federal database full of personal information. A reverse directory is all that’s necessary to flesh out any list of blind telephone numbers.

    The other bit is that the Feds have effectively prequalified customers for the telemarketing firms at taxpayer expense. Sales companies spend bajillions sorting out potential “yeses” from “nos.” Now they don’t have to. It’s a bad idea all the way around.

  37. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 12:27:21
    There is no end to the adventures we can have if we seek them with our eyes wide open.

  38. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 03:15:39
    Love can damage more than you can heal with drinking.

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