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CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein has dismissed telemarketers' concerns about do-not-call websites. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

The CRTC has endorsed third-party websites such as iOptOut.ca to block unwanted phone calls, despite the objections of telemarketers.

In letters to the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) and the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) made public on Tuesday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission warned that do-not-call requests originating from such third parties are perfectly valid.

"To the extent that these requests are sent to organizations that engage in telemarketing, and that are therefore subject to the rules regarding do not call lists, these requests would be in compliance with the [Telecommunications] Act and the current Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules," wrote CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein. "I consider that do not call requests made through iOptOut are valid and should be honoured."

The website was set up in March by University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist to supplement the CRTC's do-not-call list, which consumers can sign up for beginning on Sept. 30. Under the CRTC rules, individual telemarketers who phone a number registered on the list will incur a $1,500 fine. Telemarketing companies would be fined $15,000 for making such a call.

The list, however, permits exceptions for many organizations. Charities, political parties, polling firms and companies that have had an existing business relationship with the person in the past 18 months are still allowed to call. To block calls from such groups, consumers must either request to be removed from their list at the time of the call, or proactively contact the organization.

Geist's website allows consumers to choose from a database of such groups, and then send an automated e-mail request to be removed from their calling lists.

The CMA and CBA complained to the CRTC about the website within weeks of it going up, Geist wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. The organizations challenged its authority and, in the case of the CMA, advised members to ignore consumer requests originating from the website, he wrote.

The CBA said there are several privacy and security concerns with such sites. Banks have long supported the need for a do-not-call list but they also have an obligation to maintain up-to-date files on their customers, which will be hard to do if they are unable to contact them, said CBA spokesperson Maura Drew-Lytle. Criminals and competitors could also abuse the process by setting up their own websites to either eliminate customers' details from rivals, or acquire their personal information.

"It's difficult for [banks] to amend that profile unless they're sure it's that person who is actually making the request," she said. "You could have a competitor go through the phone book and download all sorts of names to go on your list just so you can't market to those people anymore."

Officials from the CMA were not available for comment, but von Finckenstein deflected some of the organizations' concerns in his letters. He said any such issues that arise could be dealt with by Canada's competition laws, the Criminal Code and the Privacy Commissioner.

He also suggested the CMA and CBA work with Geist to smooth out any technical or operational problems.