Telemarketing is one of the fault lines of modern American life.
Pushing one way are the telemarketers themselves, using the phone system to exercise their free speech rights in the advocacy of a cause or the solicitation of business.
Pushing the other way are people who swear the phone never rings until the fork is halfway to their lips, people tired of saying, “I already subscribe, thanks,” or fending off credit card offers.
It’s the First Amendment vs. people’s right to be left alone — and their right not to have their own telephones turned into weapons against their privacy and peace of mind.
In an ideal world we should be able to handle the occasional telemarketing call without demanding a new set of laws to shield them from what, in essence, is a non-life-threatening irritation. But things have gotten out of hand. We bought our phones in order to have contact with friends and family and to conduct personal business; we shouldn’t have to suffer through them being hijacked night after night by pitchmen.
The Arizona Legislature has been dealing with the issue and for a while it was all set to establish a statewide no-call list for those who don’t want to be bothered. But not all solicitations originate in Arizona, and the state really doesn’t have the money to be setting up new programs right now. Besides, Arizona’s $100,000 estimated price tag seems laughably low.
So the state Senate wisely decided on Thursday to defer to the federal government, allowing Arizonans to get their names on a federal no-call list and requiring Arizona telemarketers to obey federal rules.
But some refinement of the no-call concept is in order. While a great many people have wearied of commercial solicitations, the same may not hold true when it comes to charities. There should be a way for someone to block calls from glass-repair shops while still entertaining a charity’s request for donations.
If you don’t want your air-conditioner checked, you still might sit for a political spiel or to answer questions from a legitimate polling organization.
The idea has obvious appeal for consumers and should appeal to that broad group we call telemarketers as well. Why should they waste time calling people who don’t want to hear them?
A custom-built no-call list may sound onerous and complicated, but in our computerized age it shouldn’t be. It might be a great way to ease tensions along that fault line.