WASHINGTON -- Moving to protect individual privacy in the face of new telephone technology, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed that telephone customers have limited ability to block Caller ID, a service that displays the phone number of incoming calls before a person answers the telephone.
But the move is likely to pit the federal government against some state regulators, who advocate stricter protections for callers who want to conceal their identities when using the phone.
Yesterday's action came amid a nationwide debate over Caller ID, which is already available in many cities and will eventually be available everywhere.
Telephone companies are heavily promoting the service as a way for people to identify unwanted callers, but critics have argued that callers are entitled to privacy and should be allowed to conceal their identity if they choose.
In a separate action, the FCC adopted rules intended to protect consumers from unscrupulous providers of pay-per-call "900-number" telephone services.
The new rules essentially adopt a proposal the commission made earlier this year, and would force companies that provide information over "900" numbers to fully disclose the cost of each call and give customers a chance to hang up without incurring charges.
On Caller ID, the principal concern of a number of politicians and consumer advocates is that it can give telemarketing companies a powerful new tool to collect information about people who call them in response to advertisements.
The fear is that the companies can learn a person's identity, match it with other information and then sell it to other businesses without the customer's knowledge or consent.
In trying to balance the privacy interests with its desire to promote useful applications of Caller ID, the FCC proposed that callers be allowed to block the information on individual calls but rejected the idea that they should be able to have the identification blocked automatically for every call they make.
In taking that stand, the FCC appeared to be moving to pre-empt efforts by some state regulators to impose heavier protection.