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'Do not call' list faces more hang-ups
Legislators vote to give FTC authority on telemarketing, but a second judge blocks the list.
September 26, 2003: 12:05 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN/Money) - The House and Senate voted Thursday to grant the Federal Trade Commission explicit authority to create a national "do not call" list for telemarketers, but the move prompted a second federal judge to block the move.

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But the decision, made by District Judge Edward Nottingham in Denver, was based on telemarketers' free speech rights rather than questions over whether the FTC had the authority to implement such a list.

"The FTC has chosen to entangle itself too much in the consumer's decision by manipulating consumer choice and favoring speech by charitable (organizations) over commercial speech," the judge said.

Earlier Thursday, the House voted 412-8 and the Senate voted 95-0. The bill will now be sent to President Bush for approval. He is expected to sign it.

The quick action comes a day after a federal judge ruled the FTC overstepped its congressional mandate to create the wildly popular list. (For more on that story, click here.)

"Fifty million Americans can't be wrong," Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) declared Wednesday, referring to the number of phone numbers that people have signed up to block the unwanted solicitations.

Readers react
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"No story regarding [Judge] West's decision ... should be considered complete without ... a telephone number where he can be reached during dinner time."
Read more reader comments

"The goal is to get it to the president's desk today," said Jack Finn, a spokesman for Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who is sponsoring the Senate bill.

The lawmakers who voted against the list said they did so either because they opposed government regulation of telemarketers or because their districts were home to call centers they feared would be shuttered by the new rules.

"In my judgment I can tolerate the inconvenience of an unwanted phone call, but I cannot tolerate job loss," said Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), who voted against the bill. "Job loss in my district is devastating."

Lawmakers expect that the quick congressional action will mean the new list will take effect Oct. 1 as was expected before Wednesday's court ruling.

Workers at a telemarketing firm place calls to consumers.  
Workers at a telemarketing firm place calls to consumers.

The scurry on Capitol Hill comes a day after U.S. District Judge Lee West ruled that the FTC cannot enforce the do-not-call registry. The ruling was a victory for the Direct Marketing Association and telemarketers who said the registry violated their rights under the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

In response to the ruling, the FTC said it had asked a court to stay the decision blocking its popular "do not call" anti-telemarketing list while it appeals the case.

The DMA is a trade group representing about 5,000 U.S. companies. Other plaintiffs, all telemarketers, were U.S. Security, Chartered Benefit Services Inc., Global Contact Services Inc. and InfoCision Management Corp.

FTC Chairman Timothy Muris called the court's decision "clearly incorrect," and vowed the agency will "seek every recourse to give American consumers a choice to stop unwanted telemarketing calls."

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The FTC's do-not-call list was created in early 2002 and implemented this year after Congress ordered the agency to make rules preventing abusive and deceptive telemarketing practices.

The DMA and the other plaintiffs had challenged the creation of the list and its prohibition of "abandoned calls," defined as one in which the telemarketer does not get on the line within two seconds of calling a consumer. They wanted the court to prohibit the FTC from enforcing the registry and rules against abandoned calls.

West agreed regarding the registry, but disagreed regarding abandoned calls.

 
The list was dead already. Click here

With the list generating so much interest, many consumers decried the court's action.

"If a solicitor comes to my door, I have the right not to let them into my house," one reader wrote to CNN/Money. "Fifty million Americans have already made that choice and it shouldn't be taken away from them." (For more on the readers' reaction, click here.)

Meanwhile, the head of the DMA said the FTC simply overreached.

"What we said in our court case, and the judge agreed with us, was that the FTC simply didn't have the authority to do this," DMA CEO Robert Wientzen told CNN. (For more on Wientzen's comments, click here.)  Top of page


-- Reuters contributed to the story.




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