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The Privacy of Cellular Telephone Numbers

The Privacy of Cellular Telephone Numbers

As of October 2004, cellular or wireless telephone numbers are private; there are no directories of the numbers as there are with residential “land line” telephone numbers. However, six of the seven largest wireless telephone carriers say that they will move forward with a plan to compile a directory of wireless telephone numbers. Many cellular phone customers and privacy advocates have voiced opposition to the proposed wireless number directory. Simply put, they wish to keep their numbers private. Several members of Congress who agree with this wish have introduced legislation that would safeguard cellular phone customers against unwanted–or arguably unscrupulous–business practices.

The Wireless 411 Privacy Act


Similar versions of the Wireless 411 Privacy Act have been introduced in the House and the Senate. In sponsoring a version of the law, one legislator contended that cellular phone customers expected their numbers to be private. If passed into law, the Act would prohibit wireless telephone carriers from including in a published directory the phone numbers of those subscribers who do not give their consent. The Act would also prohibit carriers from charging subscribers to remove their name from a list of numbers.


A trade association representing cellular carriers has said that the carriers have already put privacy safeguards in place. For instance, the wireless number directory would not be published online or in print. A person would have to call a 411 service to obtain the numbers. The association further claims that customer consent would be required before a number could be given out.

California enacts cellular phone number privacy law

While Congress considered the versions of the federal 411 Wireless Privacy Act, the Governor of California signed the first cellular phone number privacy law. Under the law, California wireless phone subscribers will be able to decide whether or not to list their number in a planned wireless 411 directory. The law requires wireless carriers to obtain express written consent before including the numbers in a directory. Additionally, the law prohibits the charging of a fee to those subscribers who do not wish to have their numbers listed.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.