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No-way on No-call

Registry tells government more than it needs to know

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Suppose Congress asked all Americans to register some of their most personal information with the federal government for it to use however and whenever it wanted. Suppose that information included your name, address, phone numbers, the billing information and history for each phone line you have, your email address, street address, the computer domain and host from which you access the Internet and the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the computer you regularly use.

You'd think that the vast majority of Americans would respond to the government with a resounding, "Hell no!"

By deadline Friday, Americans had registered 50 million phone numbers -- a third of the residential lines in this country -- with the federal government through the federal no-call registry and in the process many turned over the information listed above.

Americans may be outraged by the idea that the feds can now check out what library books they've been reading or search their homes without telling them, but offer to make telemarketers go away and they'll line up like sheep to turn over private information to the federal government without giving a second thought to how it might be used.

The same could be said for the American media. As of Friday, a Lexis-Nexis search of national newspapers revealed that if anyone in the media has bothered to read the fine print of the 100-page Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Telemarketing Sales rule or Federal Trade Commission's Privacy Policy, they haven't gotten around to printing anything about it.

They should. Numerous media outlets have correctly reported that only the phone number you register with the no-call list will be shared with telemarketers and that your name, email or other identifying information about you won't be linked to the number you register on the list itself. This is true. But it doesn't mean that all the other information listed above won't be stored elsewhere.

"We will store your email address in a secure manner, separate from your telephone number," the FTC site reads. "We will not share your email address with telemarketers." So, who will they share it with?

To find that out, you've got to read the FTC's privacy policy, which contains information you won't find in the "consumer information" section of the site, which promotes the no-call list.

According to the more detailed privacy policy, when you access the FTC site to register your numbers on the no-call list, the site automatically collects and stores the name of the domain and host from which you access the Internet, the IP address of the computer you are using, the browser software you use and your operating system, the date and time you accessed the site, the Internet address of the site from which you linked directly to the FTC site, and what you did once you entered the site.

"Generally, we delete this information after a year," the FTC's privacy statement reads, but it makes no promises. And while the information is supposedly collected only as "aggregate anonymous data," the document also makes clear that "in other circumstances," including requests from Congress, Freedom of Information Act requests from private individuals or companies, during litigation and for routine agency uses ". . . we may be required or authorized by law to disclose the information you provide."

If you register your phone number with the no-call list by phone, you're required to call from the number you're registering. This was supposed to prevent folks from registering numbers other than their own. But it also serves another, more insidious purpose. When you call in, a computerized system called ANI (Automatic Number Identification) -- the same system used to pin down the location of 911 callers -- verifies that the number you're calling from is the same one you're registering. That's fine. But ANI does more than that. At the same time, it can also automatically retrieve associated information about the caller, like her address, phone account status and billing records.

The federal rule isn't clear on whether or for how long this information might be stored, but it does say that all information retrieved through the no-call list will be available to and can be used by the FTC and law enforcement officials. Even if you remove your number from the registry, "it will be available to the FTC and law enforcement officials for two years from the date of removal," the FTC's website states.

What's so disturbing is that you don't have to be a reporter to figure this out. All you've got to do is thoroughly read the information on the government's no-call registration site before you register your phone numbers. Every piece of information reported above is available at www.donotcall.gov except the details on how ANI works, which naturally weren't included, since they would probably scare people. Sure, the information took about four hours to read through, but as you can see, it was worth every minute.

Because I treasure my privacy, I won't be adding my phone number to the list. There's no telemarketer annoying enough to make that kind of sacrifice worth it. If the government wants to collect that kind of information about me, the bastards will have to get it some other way.

Contact Tara Servatius at tara.servatius@cln.com.

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