Firms Could Record Some Phone Calls Without Consent Under California Bill

by Sharon Bernstein, Reuters

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Companies would no longer have to tell consumers they are recording some cellphone conversations until 20 seconds into the calls under a bill approved Tuesday by a committee in the California legislature.

The bill by freshman assembly member Evan Low, a Democrat from the state’s Silicon Valley tech hub, would remove a provision in state law making it illegal for companies to record all cellphone conversations without the express consent of the consumer if the person has done business with the company or owes it money.

The bill was opposed by numerous advocates for consumers and seniors, including the Consumer Federation of California and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“At a time when consumers are more and more concerned about businesses invading their privacy, it is wrong to be considering rolling back an important privacy law,” said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California, testifying against the bill on Tuesday.

Low has said his bill simply seeks to clarify the law, which was written before mobile phones were commonly used and forbids the recording of confidential conversations.

That law has been interpreted as allowing the recording of non-confidential conversations on landline phones, but not with regard to mobile phones.

His bill would allow companies to record conversations deemed “non-confidential” on cellphones for the first 20 seconds, something consumer advocates said could allow companies to try to catch consumers in an apparent admission that they owe a debt or understand a pricing scheme.

The bill is currently slated to go next to the assembly floor for consideration, although it may be routed to another committee first once new amendments are analyzed.

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