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NARAL and Verizon: blocking messages

The pro-choice group NARAL, one of the sponsors of the women's march on Washington that my daughter and I attended a few years ago, had a run-in with Verizon recently. NARAL wants to be able to send text messages to its supporters. Only to those who actually sign up for the messages. Verizon initially refused the code NARAL needs to send messages to its customers, saying NARAL is a controversial group that may send "unsavory" messages.

The New York Times notes that Verizon reversed its decision, now allowing NARAL to send the messages. The Verizon spokesperson said it was a mistake, that the refusal was based on the wrong policy, a policy intended to prevent unwanted text messages from being sent to its customers. In this case, of course, the NARAL messages would only go to those who specifically request them so it was the wrong call.

What is disturbing, though, is that some legal lights say the cell phone company is within its rights to deny this type service for reasons other than the ability to pay or meet other basic application requirements. A cell phone company can monitor actual messages, in other words, and determine which are appropriate and which are not.

I don't recall being asked if I can censor the advertising that is on my television or in my magazines. I don't remember being given the opportunity to review the messages I see in supermarkets. I don't remember, for that matter, being given a choice between paying a little more and being subjected to what I certainly consider unsavory messages.

I recognize that these are different situations. There is a free-speech element to them both, however. A governmental agency can in fact regulate the display of messages forced upon persons who did not ask for them. For example, cities can have sign regulations that limit the sizes, locations, numbers of signs on a property, even political signs. The government cannot regulate the content of those signs, however. Yet a private company can make a decision to prevent the use of its facilities by those with the ability to pay for such use if that company disagrees with the content of private messages.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for a company's ability to censor unsolicited text messages. All I need is another way for advertisers to invade my life. But when I have specifically asked for information from a company I should have the right to receive that information.

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