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Woman Says Blocking Phone Numbers from Caller ID Would Help Harassers

August 1, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A woman subjected to two years of obscene phone calls, vandalism and threats from a ″telephone terrorist″ urged a Senate panel Wednesday not to restrict the new Caller I.D. devices that display the phone numbers of incoming calls.

Mrs. Stacey Blazer of Olney, Md., said she opposed a bill by Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., that would require phone companies to offer selective blocking of Caller I.D. for those customers who don’t want to reveal their phone numbers.

In the case of harassing calls, she said, blocking would ″protect the perpetrator of the crime at the expense of their victims.″

Telephone companies such as Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic are promoting Caller I.D., which displays incoming numbers on a small video device, as a way to thwart unwanted callers. They cite statistics in New Jersey showing a dramatic decline in the number of obscene phone calls after Caller I.D. began there two years ago.

But privacy advocates say callers should not be required to give away their phone numbers to car salesmen, mail order houses and the like whenever they make a phone inquiry. Law enforcement officials and operators of battered women centers say blocking is essential.

Six areas of the country now have Caller I.D., and as many as 22 states are debating whether to allow it. California requires blocking, while a Pennsylvania court has outlawed it as a violation of wiretaps laws. American Telephone & Telegraph Co. has offered a similar long-distance service to businesses for several years.

Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on technology and the law primarily focused on the issue of whose privacy should be paramount: the caller or the called?

″We should not sacrifice everyone’s privacy to catch a small minority of phone terrorists,″ Kohl told the hearing.

But Mrs. Blazer, who said Caller I.D. worked for her after repeated cries for help to the police did not, was equally adamant: ″My right to privacy is more important than a potential harasser’s right to violate my privacy.″

She said Caller I.D. is more effective than services such as Call Trace, which allows a victim of a harassing call, by pushing three numbers on the telephone, to tell phone company computers to record the caller’s phone number. Only police can gain access to those numbers, however.

″I wanted to know if he lived next door or if he was one of my husband’s business associates,″ Mrs. Blazer said of a man who called her repeatedly, threatened to rape her, banged on her door and windows and vandalized her house. ″Call Trace wouldn’t reveal that.″

Phone company wiretaps eventually led to the man’s arrest and conviction, she said, but only after repeated delays and red tape. His calls resumed while he was on probation and stopped only when she signed up for Caller I.D. earlier this year.

″If I had Caller I.D. two years ago, I could have prevented all this before it began,″ she said.

She agreed with a New Jersey Bell President James G. Cullen, who testified that Caller I.D. would not be as effective if blocking were allowed, particularly for harassing calls. Cullen also said customers prefer Caller I.D. to Call Trace.

″Customers say they want to deal with the situation themselves,″ Cullen said.

But Janlori Goldman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it could be dangerous for women to call back an obscene caller and confront him.

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