Monday, June 16, 2008

State Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Robot Call Law

Lawyers for Attorney General Steve Carter defended in oral argument before the Indiana Supreme Court today an interpretation of Indiana's Autodialer Act, which bans placing automated calls unless a live operator first reveals the purpose and source of the call, to include pre-recorded calls by political campaigns and organizations. The Autodialer Act has been on the books since 1988, but the Attorney General's office did not begin enforcing it against political calls until the 2006 election cycle. State Solicitor General Tom Fisher conceded that the State's "Do Not Call" law had elevated people's expectation of privacy according to the Star's Meagan Ingerson. “(Political calls) are not defined to be within the scope of the Do Not Call list, and that is why this law has become higher in the public consciousness,” Fisher said. “They are now very noticeable.”

Opponents of the Attorney General's interpretation says the law was not intended to cover political calls. “There is no contention that a political candidate is promoting goods or services,” Ingerson quotes Ed Delaney as arguing in opposition to the Attorney General's interpretation. On that point, Delaney probably has the better argument that the law as written was never intended to cover political calls. He also raised First Amendment concerns. I'm not buying this latter argument at all. How you can say First Amendment rights are impeded by telling political candidates and organizations that if they want to telephone voters, they have to do it with a live caller and not a recorded message? Further, I've never understood anyone thinking that an expenditure of campaign money for these robo-calls is even remotely effective. I personally find it insulting to receive a recorded message from a candidate. I suspect the only reason some campaigns spend money on these robo-calls is to put money into the pocket of a politically-connected vendor without regard to their effectiveness.

4 comments:

Bart Lies said...

Any candidate who has their computer call me for my vote will get only MY computer's vote. Please note that my computer isn't old enough to even register, so I guess they shouldn't expect much support from my household.

In fairness, a live body calling me will have little more success in their 'convert a heathen' efforts.

Flynn said...

The AG has no chance of winning this case. Clearly the political calls are not "promoting goods or services." The fact the statute wasn't applied for 18 years to political speech is further evidence the statute was aimed at commercial, not political speech.

Second, Gary, you're dead wrong on the constitutional issue. Previous cases have required that laws/rules like this make an exception for political activity. For example, neighborhoods can't ban door to door political solicitation, but they can ban other types of commercial solicitation.

The law can make reasonable time, place and manner restrictions such as limiting the hours the calls are made so they are not made before 8 a.m. or 9 p.m. for example. But they can't ban the speech completely on the basis that other types of speech is available to the candidate. The fact audo-dialers may be an ineffective method of speech is irrelevant.

Shaun said...

It will be a close one. First Amendment issues will be at the forefront of the Supreme Court thinking. Steve Carter makes a good argument about privacy rights. However, that may not be enough.

I testified at the U.S. Senate in February about robo calls impact on the American Voter and detailed 1000's of voters that are sick and tired of this invasion of their privacy.

The elderly live in fear of a health emergency occurring and not being able to call 911. Mothers at home are bothered by calls waking up babies during naps. And night shift workers can not get the needed rest that they need to perform in their jobs.

We have started a voluntary political do not call list to get around First Amendment issues.

Shaun Dakin
CEO and Founder
StopPoliticalCalls.org

Bart Lies said...

For me it's not about privacy. It's about annoyance. Everyone has a right to voice their opinions but none of them have the right to enter my home and force their ideas on me - whether in the flesh or in a stream of electrons.

Now if they want to split to cost of my phone bill, we can talk. I didn't subscribe to my phone service for their benefit, only for mine.