In a victory for privacy advocates, the Public Service Commission has ordered the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland to allow people to block the display of their phone numbers to subscribers of the Caller ID service.
A subscriber to the service currently sees the number of the caller's phone on a display screen next to the subscriber's phone.
Under the commission order issued today, C&P must provide a two- or three-digit number to those who do not want their numbers displayed when they dial a subscriber to the Caller ID service. Dialing the code will cause the display unit on the receiving end to show either "PRIVATE" or "P" rather than showing a phone number.
The blocking code will be available to all C&P customers for free.
Caller ID has provoked strident protests from people who say the service is an invasion of privacy. Agencies that deal with domestic violence have been particularly critical, saying an abusive spouse can use Caller ID to obtain the telephone number of an estranged spouse with the intent to harass the person.
In its decision, the commission cited arguments made by the advocates for abused spouses as well as by professionals who want to protect themselves when they use their home phones. It also recognized that people may not want to be identified when they make calls to businesses.
C&P spokesman Al Burman said the company is disappointed with the decision and is considering asking the commission to reconsider.
Promoting Caller ID as a way to thwart harassing calls, C&P has signed up more than 34,000 subscribers since Caller ID was introduced in August 1989.
The subscriber pays a monthly fee to C&P for the service and must buy a display device, which costs $60 to $80.