Photo: Ollie Craaford via Flickr
If you owe the government money, prepare for your mobile phone to start ringing more often.Because so many people no longer have landlines, the Obama administration has included in its deficit-reduction plan a proposal that would make the cell numbers of individuals in debt to the government available to private collectors, the Associated Press reports.
The administration suggests that such a measure would result in a considerable uptick in collections, though this assertion is disputed by both consumer advocates and other Democrats, who say such calls would just mean an increase in harassment.
This is no small amount of money that’s owed to the government. The Treasury Department found that $35.9 billion of debt was referred to private collectors in the 2010 fiscal year—$28.8 billion of it from the Education Department. But is giving out mobile phone numbers a violation of privacy?
Thanks to their wireless connectivity, smartphones are particularly vulnerable to malware attacks and unapproved access, according to a Voice of San Diego column, a problem that’s compounded by the large amount of information the devices often contain. Geotagging and location services also broadcast details of users’ lives and movements, frequently without their knowledge.
Whether having the number of an individual’s phone would make them more exposed to such tactics is unclear, but the phones themselves appear to have a more personal connection to people than the landlines they’ve come to replace.
Aside from the question of mobile phone security, the debate hinges on public distrust of debt collectors, who are the second-most frequent subject of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (behind identity theft, which unlike debt collection is not a legal industry).
Lauren Sanders, from the National Consumer Law centre, expressed doubt to the AP that robocalls from collectors would earn the government anything other than complaints.
“People aren’t paying their student loans because they can’t find a job,” Sanders said.