The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Uncalled for mobile calls come under court glare

New Delhi, Feb. 7: Mobile phone users may well rejoice: the menace of cold calls from telemarketers could end soon.

The Supreme Court issued notices today to the Centre, the law ministry, telecom regulator Trai, cellular operators and banks to stop the invasion of privacy through unsolicited calls.

The notices were sent out on a public interest litigation filed by one Harsh Pathak before the court that called for some form of protection from the barrage of calls from telemarketers who try to sell credit cards, hawk loans or peddle dubious schemes over the phone.

The notices were sent to private telecom operators like Hutch, Reliance, Idea, Bharti and banks like Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, HDFC and ICICI. Pathak claimed through his lawyer Vivek Tankha that the calls from sales executives and telemarketing personnel amounted to an 'invasion of privacy and violation of the right to live a peaceful life'.

The petitioner requested the court to issue a directive to the respondents to 'check, regulate and stop the endemic invasion of privacy' of the subscribers of mobile telephone services at all times and hours through such unsolicited calls. Tankha contended that these unsolicited calls infringed on the fundamental rights of citizens.

It said the mobile service providers and telemarketers were using the personal data of the subscribers for their business purposes as a product for sales promotion at the subscribers' personal and financial cost.

The petition cited a US data protection law that barred unsolicited calls to people who had registered with a nationwide Do Not Call Registry which imposed strict penalties for violations.

The petitioner wanted the court to direct the government to enact a law, scheme or regulation to protect mobile phone users 'from this constant harassment and invasion of privacy'.

The petition said the personal data that subscribers had given to a mobile phone service provider were being accessed by telemarketing personnel who in all probability bought it from rogue employees in the companies.

Pathak said the personal details should be treated as 'confidential'. 'The government should formulate a scheme to safeguard the privacy of the subscribers and to compensate for the loss incurred by them due to such unethical actions of the respondent companies,' he said.

He wanted the government to create a helpline and a forum to register complaints from 'harassed' mobile phone subscribers.

He requested the court to issue a directive to the government to consider establishing a Do Not Call registry as in the US, which would contain the numbers of those subscribers who did not wish to receive calls from telemarketing companies.

Cellular operators supported the idea of stopping cold calls. They said they were doing their bit to protect their customers by refusing to come out with a directory of phone numbers.

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