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  • Last modified 190 days ago (May 16, 2019)

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A call to end one of our biggest hang-ups

Sorry, readers. This editorial isn’t for you. You can read it if you want, but it’s written for just four people. And it’ll be a good test to see whether any of the four — all of whom have fancy electronic clipping services to detect comments just like this — actually pays attention.

Sen. Jerry Moran, Sen. Pat Roberts, Rep. Roger Marshall, and President Donald Trump: This column is for you.

It’s time America builds a wall — not along our southern border but around something a lot closer to home — our phones and, by extension, our personal privacy and the civility with which we communicate.

Phones used to be things we could depend upon to keep us in touch with people we wanted to talk to. Instead they have turned into annoying, sometimes downright harassing devices. And the reason, quite respectfully, is clear: The four of you have been asleep at the switch.

Let’s make our phones great again.

And let’s see that become a key battle cry echoing through upcoming political campaigns.

Want to get people to care about democracy and voting? Take on issues that actually affect real, everyday people. Show them you care about what impacts their everyday lives instead of hot-button issues that impact only pressure groups who give you millions so you can stay in Washington.

It’s time to ban robocalls and spoofed caller IDs. Not restrict them. Not create some office to look into them. Not encourage consumers to buy costly equipment to try to deflect them. Ban them. Period.

And don’t give us any static about how hard it is to influence companies that call from outside the U.S. We’re trying to influence business practices in China right now with tariffs. If we really cared about robocalls and spoofed caller IDs, we could find a way.

Believe it or not — and you should, because it quite literally is true — as my fingers were typing the words in the previous paragraph, I got yet another robocall, my second of the morning. In this case, it was the 11th call I had received in 10 days from the same spoofed number — all of them hang-ups.

I long ago reported the number (and several others) to the Federal Trade Commission. I for years have had my numbers on the federal do-not-call list. I spent $80 to buy a device that’s supposed to reject such callers on a landline and paid $20 for an app to do the same on my mobile phone. Between them they’ve blacklisted more than 400 numbers, while whitelisting only 47. Yet I still get three to five robocalls with spoofed caller ID every day. And many of them, like the one I just received, are repeats.

That may not sound like much to those of you with taxpayer-paid staffs to screen your calls. But for the handful of regular readers eavesdropping on this editorial even though it wasn’t directed to them, it’s what life has become.

We thought about urging everyone who receives a robocall to respond by hanging up, signing up with any of the thousands of openly advertised services that will make spoofed ID robocalls for you, and send a few dozen such calls to each of your offices.

But if we, as human beings, did that, we’d be guilty of stalking. You politicians have seen to it that corporations have the same rights of as individuals do to express themselves however they want. It’s time they also have the same responsibilities not to harass and stalk.

Washington is nothing if not complicated. We’re sure there will be a veritable North Pole wrapping station of red tape surrounding any attempted solution. But maybe the answer — short of voting people out of office if they can’t find ways to cut red tape — is to take a lesson from my cat.

A very cleanly animal, she appreciates a fresh litter box. Don’t clean it quickly enough, and she’ll give a clear message by switching to such things as a rug in the entry hall.

Do we really have to raise a stink in the entry halls of power to see anything get done with this annoying issue?

While you’re at it, it’s also probably time to crack down on spam email and all the junk that shows up in our physical mailboxes, even as the postal service returns properly addressed items marked “addressee unknown” and stonewalls when asked to document supposed dog threats to letter carriers.

It’s also time to eliminate the exemption social media enjoy from laws that make other media, including this newspaper, legally responsible for everything they convey.

And it’s time to stop those profiteering new-media companies from stealing every shred of personal information about anyone using their products — down to knowing every last location that every cell phone user has ever visited and using this Big Brother-like information to profile them for Orwellian marketing.

Next time you hear a phone ringing, probably with yet another spoofed ID robocall, it may be appropriate to consider John Donne’s advice: Do not send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified May 16, 2019

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