A cellphone directory couldn't list a subscriber's phone number without permission, under a bill progressing in the state House of Representatives...

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A cellphone directory couldn’t list a subscriber’s phone number without permission, under a bill progressing in the state House of Representatives.

The bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee this week after the Committee on Technology, Energy and Communications passed the measure last week in an 8-4 vote. If the appropriations panel approves it, the bill will go before the full House.

Proposed by Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup, the bill was discussed in a hearing last week. Morrell wants to update a law that made it illegal for cellphone companies to create a wireless-phone directory without permission from individuals holding listed numbers.

In new language she is proposing, most any company — not just cellular operators — could not create a directory without permission.

Morrell said she proposed HB 2479 after reading an Aug. 13 story in The Seattle Times about how Bellevue-based Intelius claimed to have a directory of millions of U.S. cellphone numbers available for a fee on its Web site. Since then, Intelius has filed for a $144 million initial public offering.

The proposed bill argues that the updated law is needed to protect privacy rights and because cellphone subscribers pay for outgoing and incoming calls.

“A subscriber’s cellphone number should be kept private, unless that subscriber knowingly provides their express, opt-in consent to have that number made available in a public directory,” the bill says.

A video of last week’s hearing shows testimony from a number of companies, including Intelius, AT&T and Yahoo, as well as the WSA, the state’s technology association. Most were concerned by the proposal’s breadth and the $50,000 fine that a mistake could cost.

In particular, AT&T and Yahoo asked what constituted a directory.

Another concern was about the proliferation of cellphones and how some people opt to port their landline number over to a mobile phone.

Would the companies be responsible if a phone number remained listed in a directory if it now belonged to a cellphone?

Ed Petersen, Intelius co-founder and senior vice president of sales and marketing, testified that the company is not against regulations but opposes this bill.

“The industry is bigger than just Intelius,” he said. “It’s not just a bill to prohibit Intelius’ services, but it will have a sweeping impact on a lot of companies. … What we would recommend is to be part of the solution. Don’t rush through the bill; let us be a part of the solution going forward, and allow for some dialogue.”

Petersen argued further that the cellphone numbers in Intelius directories come from public sources — either public documents or forms.

Still, House members questioned the intent of Intelius’ services, which also include a person’s address and home number.

“It’s creeping us out actually; you have addresses that go back 17 years on me,” said one committee member.

Petersen said the services are typically used by companies that want to check out job candidates, by parents worried about a baby-sitter or clients checking on a contractor. Also, people often conduct a reverse search, in which they have a phone number but want to know whom it belongs to.

Another committee member asked whether former Seahawk Steve Largent ever got his money back after he conducted a search for his cellphone number and received incorrect information.

Largent, president of CTIA, the mobile industry’s trade organization, was quoted in The Seattle Times story as saying that although his search returned incorrect information, he did not receive a refund when the CTIA asked for one.

Petersen responded: “I was hoping that wouldn’t come up. We are a startup, and when we rolled it out, our customer service could have performed better.”

Some of the bill’s language was changed to address concerns from the testimony. One addition states that if a cellphone number is listed without permission and had been ported from a landline within the previous 15 months, it would not be in violation.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com