The Private Sphere, Private Property, and the Do Not Call List

Like most people, I hate telemarketing calls and therefore I welcomed the Do Not Call List.  But I also hate calls from political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors, which are not covered by the list.  And I get so many of these calls that I feel I have lost control over my phone.  I get far more calls from such unwanted organizations than I do from people who I know.  The best that I can do to guard against these calls is to have caller ID and then refuse to pick up from phone numbers that I don’t recognize.  But that is a hassle.

Should people have the right to put their name on a Do Not Call List?  If one assumes a deontological libertarian view, I am not sure whether they should.  If memory serves as to Murray Rothbard’s view, it might depend on whether someone calling you represents an invasion onto your private property.  That might depend on who owns the phone and phone lines – or on your arrangement with the phone company that provides you with service.

I don’t adopt that type of view.  I believe that rights of this sort turn on the consequences, but I believe that the need for a private sphere – traditionally protected by private property – should inform the inquiry into consequences.  Under this view, someone calling your phone is a limited invasion of your private sphere.  Allowing someone to do this after an individual has indicated that he does not want to be called is extremely problematic.  One might override that preference in an emergency, but it is hard to argue that calls for telephone surveys, for charities, and for political organizations are at that level of importance.   It is true that including these calls under the Do Not Call List would make it harder to poll the public, but there are so many polls now and there are alternative ways to poll people that no exception seems necessary.

Unfortunately, the Do Not Call List is controlled by political forces and so they exempt certain groups – some that are part of the political process but others that are seen as worthy.  But the end result is that people have to incur more expensive mechanisms, such as Caller ID and not picking up, to avoid these nuisances.