Published: The Economic Times, 6 December, 2004

By Manish Agarwal

Everyone has the right to privacy. However, telesales in the form of unwanted and uninvited calls and SMS messages on telephones/cell phones are an intrusive nuisance. Imagine a situation when a subscriber is roaming outside the service area, he may have to pay roaming airtime charges on these unwanted calls answered. While consumers can refuse to take a phone call, which is often difficult, but they are also powerless over their text messages.

Tele-solicitation is an advertisement targeted even at non-listed or non-published telephones/cell phones obtained (presumably against some ‘consideration’) from the service providers or are ‘sold’ to advertising companies with whom the subscriber has had or has business dealings. Absence of a telemarketing law has opened up yet another window for corrupt practices.

What is even more alarming is the disclosure that telephone hucksters have caused American consumers loss of more than US$40bn a year due to telemarketing frauds. Telephone hucksters are playing on consumers’ financial vulnerabilities and economic uncertainty. Telephone hucksters offer loans on no-questions-asked-basis on payment of US$250 upfront. The subscribers do not get the promised loan and also loose US$250. The USA clamped telemarketing sales rules to tackle the problem and has also prosecuted offenders. Besides, a national “do-not-call” registry is maintained to stop unwanted calls.

In its consultation paper on “Issues Pertaining to Publishing of Telephone Directory and Directory Enquiry Services”, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had acknowledged, there are complaints that marketing companies use mobile numbers for sales promotions and subscribers are disturbed by these invasive, unwarranted calls. However, not publishing a telephone directory is a partial and reactive measure.

Clearly there is a need to put in place a law to regulate, prescribe and implement procedures for not only protecting privacy rights but also to pre-empt fraudulent designs of the telephone hucksters without charging the subscribers.

CUTS has taken up this matter with TRAI and Department of Telecommunications, Government of India to enact a law to regulate such practices.