Saturday, June 1, 1996
Caller ID a way of life now...and to some a
By ANNA M. TINSLEY
Harte-Hanks Austin Bureau
AUSTIN - A Texas secretary dialed a wrong telephone number
and spent the rest of the night fielding phone calls from another
woman convinced she was having an affair with her husband.
Turns out when she misdialed the number, her call was traced by
a Caller ID machine.
Instances like this may become common as more and more Texans
sign up for Caller ID, dubbed "the electronic peephole."
Left in the wake of new technology, critics say, are invasions
of privacy - which, in at least one Texas case, led to the loss
Supporters argue the machine promotes safety by letting Texans
know who is calling before answering the phone, which can cut
down on crank, harassing or unwanted calls.
One thing is for sure, said Teresa Staats, a Texan who serves
on a statewide telecommunications panel examining whether telephone
customers have been informed about the pros and cons of Caller
ID: Making a call these days is no longer as simple as picking
up the phone.
"People have no idea what it means anymore to pick up the
telephone and make a call," said Staats, a director of marketing
at Wichita General Hospital. "The average Joe Blow thinks
he's just using the phone. People don't know that something as
innocuous as a telephone has turned out to be dangerous."
There are two sides to the coin, said Leslie Kjellstrand, director
of public information for the Public Utility Commission.
"For a lot of people, it's a wonderful form of technology
that allows you to see what calls you've had," she said.
"Others really don't want their number known, even by the
people they call."
With Caller ID, approved by the Legislature in 1993, consumers
use a unit that displays the name and number of the person calling
- even if the caller's number is unpublished - before they decide
whether to answer the phone.
The Legislature created a panel last year to study whether Texans
have been adequately informed about Caller ID. Since then, members
have reviewed advertising campaigns and are gearing up for their
next meeting this month. They expect to report their findings
Staats said she worries Caller ID is becoming a "silent invasion
That invasion has proved deadly in the past, some say.
A 21-year-old San Antonio woman was murdered last year after her
ex-boyfriend used Caller ID to trace her location. Also, last
year in Nashville, police speculated Caller ID may have played
a role in a 31-year-old woman's death when her boyfriend became
enraged by a series of repeated phone calls on the Caller ID unit.
On the other hand, some say Caller ID has cut down on prank callers,
wrong numbers and con games. In one case, it even helped New Jersey
police snag a man who ordered a pizza and then robbed the delivery
man. The robber's telephone number turned up on the pizza parlor's
About 1.5 million Texans - or 27 percent of Southwestern Bell
customers - have Caller ID, said Melody Doney, the company's product
manager for the service.
In Abilene, about 25 percent of Southwestern Bell customers have
Caller ID, which is slightly below the state average, Doney said.
Caller ID is available to about 90 percent of Southwestern Bell
customers. The service costs $6.50 a month, plus an initial $5.50
subscription fee. The unit ranges in cost from $25 to $60, Doney
The big lure for the service is safety, Doney said.
"More and more people are security oriented," she said.
"They want the screening function ... (they) want to know
who's calling before they pick up the phone."
Southwestern Bell has repeatedly released educational materials
in telephone bills, Doney said. The company also has special education
efforts for women's shelters and law enforcement.
"Some people get upset because (private listings) show up
on a pizza Caller ID board or a doctor's Caller ID board,"
Kjellstrand said. "A lot of people just do not realize that
their unlisted number is actually susceptible to Caller ID unless
they personally take action."
The Public Utility Commission fields between six and 10 calls
every day about Caller ID. Most of the callers want to know how
to block their phone lines. Since Sept. 1, 187 complaints have
been logged with PUC, Kjellstrand said.
All content copyright 1996, Harte-Hanks,
The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine
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