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A Privacy Shield Against the Campaigns

As a spokesperson for millions of voters inundated by political campaigns, I have testified this year before the Senate Rules Committee in support of the Robocall Privacy Act. Our members report receiving as many as 15 robocalls a day during election season. Mothers have their babies awakened from naps. Night-shift workers who sleep during the day can't get the rest they need. Seniors and others fear that a health emergency could occur while their phone is tied up.

While commercial organizations are required by law to respect the privacy rights of consumers, politicians at the federal level and in all but a few states have exempted themselves from these laws. More than 160 million phone numbers have been placed on the National Do Not Call Registry, which requires commercial organizations to stop calling consumers within 30 days of those consumers listing their numbers. Political campaigns will call many of those 160 million numbers with impunity this fall. Why should commercial companies be required by law to stop invading the privacy of potential customers while politicians are allowed to do whatever they wish to reach potential voters?

To answer this question, candidates usually cite the First Amendment -- the right to speak freely as part of the our nation's vital democratic process. That might be a legitimate criticism of an outright ban but not of a system in which voters are given the choice to opt out of unwelcome communications.

Thus, the real reason for their personal exemptions is obvious: Politicians write the laws, and politicians like regulation only when it applies to someone else.

The time has come for a Voter Privacy Bill of Rights built on a single, straightforward principle: Voters should have the right to opt out of all direct political communications that they do not want to receive. Period.

The writer is chief executive and founder of Citizens for Civil Discourse, a nonprofit group that has launched the National Political Do Not Contact Registry at StopPoliticalCalls.org.


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