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Cell phone protection may be unnecessary

By Ed Brock

Mack Strong of Riverdale is probably not alone in his reluctance to have his cell phone number included in a planned 411 directory service.

"If I want somebody to have my number I'll give it to them," Strong said.

And just to make sure Strong's rights, and the right of all Georgians, to control the release of his or her cell phone number is assured, Gov. Sonny Perdue is pushing for the passage of the Georgia Wireless Privacy Act.

"Georgians should not have to worry that their personal cell phone numbers could be made public without their consent," Perdue said in announcing the push for legislation. "It is important that we act to protect their privacy and help our citizens avoid the nuisance of unwanted calls and text messages."

The inspiration for the law is the planned release of a nationwide "Wireless 411 Directory" by several cell phone companies, a project being organized by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. The new law would require the wireless carriers to get the customers" express permission before adding their number to the directory, would place requirements on the form used to obtain that permission and would allow customers to opt out of the list free of charge.

Other states have also begun working on similar legislation and even Congress is taking up the issue. Private groups like the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse are rallying behind such movements.

At the same time, there have been reports that the directory was folding of its own accord as some carriers like Verizon withdrew due to customer concerns about privacy. But the directory is not dead yet, said Jeff Fishburn, spokesman for Qsent Inc., a partner with CTIA in creating the directory.

"It's still moving forward," Fishburn said.

Indeed, Fishburn said some numbers may be available on the list by the end of this year.

And he added that the companies involved, including Sprint PCS and AllTel, intend the directory to be free and voluntary.

"There's never been any other decision by the carriers for the three years they've been working on it that the directory would be anything other than voluntary," Fishburn said.

Also, the Federal Communications Commission already has protections in place to keep phone solicitors from calling cell phones, said FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball.

"It is illegal to make a soliciting call to a cell phone if you use an automatic dialing system," Kimball said. "Most solicitors use those."

That, along with other federal regulations, the fact that people already have the option of including their cell phone numbers on the FCC's "Do Not Call" list, may make the state legislation redundant, Kimball said.

"It's well covered at the federal level," Kimball said.

Georgia's Wireless Privacy Act would "supplement the federal legislation," said Shane Hix, spokesman for the Office of the Governor.

State Sens. David Shafer, R-Duluth, and Cecil Staton, R-Macon, are expected to introduce the bill.

Perdue is also pushing for the "Georgia Slam Spam E-mail Act" to crack down on false and misleading or just unwanted e-mails.

"I urge the General Assembly to pass the Slam Spam E-mail Act so that Georgians can once again check their e-mail without having to wade through a cesspool of spam," Perdue said in a statement. "We're going to clean up spam in Georgia and put our citizens back in control of their online lives."

Under the act it would become a felony to send a high volume of messages, such as 10,000 messages in any 24-hour time period, to generate more than $1,000 in revenue from a single message or $50,000 from spam sent to any single Internet Service Provider or to knowingly use a minor to assist in the transmission of spam.

Deceptive e-mails that don't violate those standards would be considered misdemeanors. The punishment for a felony violation would be a fine of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment of not more than five years. For a misdemeanor the penalty would be a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or not more than 12 months in jail.