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CRTC Says iOptOut Requests "Valid and Should be Honoured"

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The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission's announcement last week that the national do-not-call registry (DNC) will be operational by September 30th generated a collective sigh of relief from Canadians tired of unwanted telemarketing calls.  Less well known is that the CRTC also recently affirmed the ability for Canadians to use third-party websites to opt-out telemarketing calls from organizations that are currently exempt under the law.

The national DNC will undoubtedly prove popular when it launches, however, it contains a wide range of exemptions that will require Canadians to individually opt-out from hundreds of organizations if they want to completely stop the unwanted calls.  Political parties, registered charities, newspapers, and businesses with a prior consumer relationship all enjoy an exemption in the law.  In return for the exemption, these groups are required to maintain internal do-not-call lists (polling companies are exempt from the national DNC and the individual opt-out approach).

Last March, I established iOptOut.ca, a website that enables Canadians to opt-out of many exempted organizations with a few easy clicks at no cost. Visitors to the site are asked to enter their phone number (and email address if they wish) and to indicate their calling preferences for nearly 150 organizations.
 
The public reaction has been extremely supportive.  Since its launch, the site has sent out millions of opt-out requests on behalf of tens of thousands of Canadians.

The reaction from several leading associations has been less enthusiastic.  Within weeks of its debut, both the Canadian Marketing Association and the Canadian Bankers Association sent letters to CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein complaining about the service and seeking support for their position that requests generated from the site were invalid.  In fact, the CMA sent a notice to its members stating that "it is the view of the Association that members need not honour do-not-call requests that originate from the organization in question."

Von Finckenstein recently responded to the letters with an unequivocal rejection of the complaints, providing a clear indication that failure to honour the opt-out requests could lead to significant penalties (companies face penalties of up to $15,000 per violation under the law).   

The response begins by noting that the DNC rules require "all telemarketers to maintain internal do-not-call lists and to abide by consumers' requests not be called" and that "there is no prohibition on consumers making such a request through a third party." The response also dismisses concerns of false registrations and affirms that "a consumer can make a do not call request to an organization even though the consumer does not have an existing business relationship with that organization."

Having established that consumers have the right to opt-out in a manner consistent with iOptOut.ca, the von Finckenstein response concludes that "to the extent that these requests are sent to organizations that engage in telemarketing, and that are therefore subject to the rules regarding do not call lists, these requests would be in compliance with the Act and the current Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules as outlined above. In short, on the basis of the facts as I understand them and have stated above, I consider that do not call requests made through iOptOut are valid and should be honoured."

The CRTC response sends a strong signal of its determination to fully enforce the DNC.  The CMA and CBA may not like Canadians' newfound ability to stop telemarketing calls through the DNC and iOptout.ca, but the law - and the CRTC - says that they're going to have to live with it.       

 
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.