The legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. John Thune and Ed Markey would require use of call authentication technologies and proposes a safe harbor for carriers blocking legitimate calls.
With the stated intention of targeting robocall scams, U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the committee and author of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, introduced bipartisan legislation that would require call authentication and blocking adoption, among other changes.
The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, S. 3655, “gives regulators more time to find scammers, increases civil forfeiture penalties for those caught, promotes call authentication and blocking adoption, and brings relevant federal agencies and state attorneys general together to address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers who intentionally flout laws,” according to news release.
While ACA International supports legislative and regulatory efforts to enforce and end illegal robocalls, current carrier call blocking and labeling initiatives continue to harm legitimate businesses while doing little to decrease the amount of unlawful calls, as outlined in comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau.
“ACA understands and appreciates consumer frustration in receiving unwanted and illegal calls on their cell phones. ACA members are consumers too, and this problem affects every consumer in the United States. However, proper call blocking involves consumer knowledge and provider responsibility. The cornerstone of all consumer protection regulation is the concept of disclosure. In this instance, however, a consumer is being providing a solution that in the end might not solve his or her problem,” said Leah Dempsey, ACA’s Vice President and Senior Counsel of Federal Advocacy.
In summary, the TRACED Act:
- Broadens the authority of the FCC to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call for those intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions.
- Extends the window for the FCC to catch and take civil enforcement action against intentional violations to three years after a robocall is placed. Under current law the FCC has only one year to do so and the FCC has told the committee that “even a one-year longer statute of limitations for enforcement” would improve enforcement against willful violators.
- Directs the Department of Justice, FCC, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, and other relevant federal agencies as well as state attorneys general and other non-federal entities to identify and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution at the federal and state level of robocall scams.
- Requires safe harbor for carriers blocking calls pursuant to the authentication framework.
- Requires providers of voice services to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones.
- Directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers using unauthenticated numbers.
“The TRACED Act targets robocall scams and other intentional violations of telemarketing laws so that when authorities do catch violators, they can be held accountable,” Thune said in the news release. “Existing civil penalty rules were designed to impose penalties on lawful telemarketers who make mistakes.”
Last June, Markey, along with U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., sponsored the “Stopping Bad Robocalls Act,” H.R. 6026, in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit case striking down the FCC’s definition of an automatic telephone dialing system.
“It’s a simple formula: call authentication, blocking and enforcement, and this bill achieves all three,” Markey said in the news release.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the chairman of the Senate committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet is also a co-sponsor of S. 3655. Sen. Wicker is expected to chair the whole committee in the 116th Congress when Thune takes on a position in the Senate leadership.
“ACA has been urging Congress to recognize the very significant differences between informational calls versus illegal robocalls, and has asked lawmakers not to sweep collection calls into the category of ‘robocalls,’” Dempsey added. “We appreciate that this proposed legislation recognizes a need for greater enforcement and penalties for bad actors, but our initial review of it leaves us with some concerns that its breadth and ambiguity in certain areas could have adverse consequences for legitimate businesses and callers.”
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