Telemarketers beware

The United States faces a great challenge to freedom this week as their National Do Not Call Registry was to come into force Wed., Oct. 1. The registry of telephone numbers telemarketers are not supposed to call, on penalty of hefty fines, was approved by Congress last year. Congress reaffirmed the registry last week in light of a court decision to stay the implementation at the request of telemarketers who challenged its constitutionality.

As much as the public disagrees with annoying telemarketing calls, granting the government more control of commercial speech infringes far more on freedom.

U.S. District Judge Lee West correctly found telemarketers’ speech would be unconstitutionally restricted by the Federal Trade Commission in enforcing the registry. The judge correctly neglected the wishes of the 50 million-strong mob of Americans in applying their law and blocking the list, while the Direct Marketing Association and its members incorrectly ignored the will and right of 50 million Americans, through their government, to ask telemarketers to shut up.

Though Congress’ rapid and almost unanimous consensus, Presidential endorsement and support from 50 million Americans on any issue are spectacular, the citizens’ pursuit of convenience must not supplant the rights of marketers to pitch time shares, credit cards, subscriptions, products of dubious utility and other junk–even to weak-willed individuals. Short of harassment, annoyed people have no right to suppress the speech of clueless telemarketers. Nor does convenience outweigh the nuisance industry’s right to support call-centre workers with minimum wages derived from morally-bankrupt but legal sales practices, their right to dishonorably convince seniors that the Widget 2000 is more important than heart medication this month, or their right to pursue expensive litigation to oppose the desires of at least 50 million consumers. Some wise men long ago wisely protected the minority nuisance in the same constitution as those of the majority.

The DMA has properly proposed a system to opt out of telemarketing similar to Canada’s, where the association and not the federal government decide how salescritters telemarket, and encourages its members to honour the requests of those on the existing registry. Other marketdroids who exercise their right to regurgitate masticated sales pitches to antagonize non-customers, and very publicly whine about laws to restrict that activity, are unlikely to generate considerable new sales and will likely garner distrust and ill-will from the public. Even a marginally intelligent businessperson would conclude that not wasting time and resources selling products to unreceptive people would be a good thing, but these marketers have as much right to be as stupid as they please, short of hurting someone else.

Though Congress has reasserted the people’s direction to implement the National Do Not Call Registry, the DMA is continuing its expensive lawyer tricks to retain the right to annoy people. With any luck, the DMA and its allies will continue to exercise their constitutionally-protected rights to cause an unpopular stink, especially when what they say, for once, is correct.

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