By Brian Marron
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS — A trio of bills on snooping dominated the agenda at a Maryland House Economic Matters Committee hearing Wednesday.
Delegate Will Smith, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring a bill that would require businesses to display a sign that clearly states that it is using consumers’ wireless Internet or cell phone signals to track their shopping habits.
Much like Internet browser activity can trigger related advertisements, stores are tracking consumer behavior to help figure out what customers want, Smith said.
Smith made it clear that the bill does not prohibit the use of this technology; it just requires that businesses tell consumers that they are being monitored.
Not abiding by this bill would violate the Maryland Consumer Protection Act as a deceptive or unfair trade practice. Offenders would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 for a first offense, and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses, and, since a violation would be considered a misdemeanor, up to one year in prison.
According to Smith, the only way consumers can opt out of such technology would be to turn off their cell phones, which the signs would indicate.
Other legislation presented Wednesday also relates to consumer rights.
A bill presented by Delegate Rick Impallaria, R-Harford and Baltimore Counties, would prohibit a telephone call between a business and a consumer from being recorded, unless the employee notifies the customer that the call may be recorded, gives an option to accept or decline a recorded call, and clearly obtains consent. Maryland law requires two-party consent for recorded conversations, yet the common current opt out for customers unwilling to have their calls recorded is to hang up and use other methods to fix their issue, according to Impallaria.
“People should have the ability to opt out of a recorded conversation,” Impallaria said. “It should be the other party’s decision whether they want to hang up and say, ‘We don’t want your business anymore.’”
Sean Looney, vice president of state government affairs with Comcast in Maryland, protested the bill, saying recorded phone calls help the company ensure their employees are properly serving customers and it helps assure customers that if there is a mistake with their bill, audio evidence exists that can prove it.
For customers who choose not to have their call recorded, options include only traditional mail and email, which lead to longer wait times for customers and more work for Comcast employees, according to Looney.
“This bill just creates more problems than it solves,” Looney said.
Other legislation presented to the committee Wednesday:
–Delegate Susan McComas, R-Harford, presented a bill extending the term of a license from two years to three years for agencies to provide private detective services. Current two-year fees are $400 for a firm and $200 for an individual; three-year licenses would cost the same, saving private investigators about 33 percent annually.
–Junk and scrap metal dealers would not be allowed to purchase shopping carts, flatbed carts or other similar devices marked by a business without its approval. They would also be banned from purchasing copper or other metal piping stolen from a house, according to a bill presented by Delegate Jill Carter, D-Baltimore. Carter said the bill acts as a deterrent for thieves and holds the buyers of scrap metal accountable.