Bill Berry: We can agree on one thing: Robocalls suck

2012-04-09T06:00:00Z 2012-05-22T17:58:20Z Bill Berry: We can agree on one thing: Robocalls suckBILL BERRY | state columnist madison.com
April 09, 2012 6:00 am  • 

Well, we survived the easy election last week. Now come the real battles.

We are a deeply divided people. There seems to be nothing we can agree upon. Wait, yes, that’s it. Let us proclaim in unison: “Robocalls suck.”

The Federal Communications Commission actually tightened its rules on unwanted “autodialed” or “prerecorded” calls this year. But the politicians have made sure they’re exempt from the rules others must follow.

So until election Tuesday came and went, we were deluged with robocalls. I haven’t talked to a single citizen of any political stripe who likes them. But the politicians and super PACs have deemed that we must swallow this bad medicine morning, noon and night, during political elections. It used to be that robocalls were targeted to specific audiences. Not in the last one. Here in traditionally Democratic Portage County, the phones were ringing off the hook. I never knew Rick Santorum was such a demon until people with nice names like Meagan and Jeremy told me so on behalf of the Romney campaign. Barbara Bush was the last voice I heard on Tuesday before pressing mute one more time on the phone. Kind of you to call, Mrs. Bush.

If I could, I’d set the real Barbara Bush straight: These calls are both an invasion of privacy and of personal security. What happens if a 75-year-old is having a heart attack and needs to call 911 just as another robocall arrives?

The robocallers claim this is a free speech issue. Put them in a room with some angry people who suffer at the other end of their calls and they’d hear a different kind of free speech. Unfortunately, free speech has its costs, and we’re the suckers who have to pay. In the age of Citizens United, it’s just more proof that some people’s free speech is freer than other people’s free speech.

Considering that you can get a zillion hits Googling just about anything, there’s not all that much out there about robocall remedies. But in the interest of helping fellow victims, red, blue or purple, here are a few little tips for the upcoming elections:

You can sign up at StopPoliticalCalls.org, run by the nonprofit Citizens for Civil Discourse. They’ve started a registry similar to the national Do Not Call list, but specifically for discouraging political campaigns from robocalling. They claim to have received commitments to cut the calls.

Better yet, a recent New York Times article offered this advice: Try pressing star-pound-zero (*#0) on your phone. Depending on the type of computer being used on the other end, this may disrupt the call. In some cases, pressing the pound key will get you taken off a caller’s list altogether.

Call your state representative. Ask him or her to sponsor state legislation banning political robocalls. Wyoming law, for instance, makes automated phone calls for “promoting or any other use related to a political campaign” a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a $750 fine. I like the jail term part. Meagan and Jeremy deserve it. Barbara Bush would probably find a way to wiggle out of it though.

Minnesota has a law that outlaws robocalls not preceded by a live human operator. Hey, it’s not perfect, but at least you’d get the chance to yell at someone before hanging up.

Of course, there’s always the option of dropping your land line. A lot of people have been looking for an excuse to do just that. You’d think land-line operators would be working overtime to protect their shrinking customer lists. At any rate, robocallers seem to have a harder time finding cell phones. But given time, they’ll probably find a way.

Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. billnick@charter.net

Copyright 2014 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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