Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee issued a joint statement early November advising that they have reached a deal on anti-robocall legislation which will seek to stave off those pesky robocalls United States consumers receive, often at the most inopportune times. Robocalls have been a growing problem in the U.S., based in large part on their solicitation of the disclosure of personal information to unknown organizations (who are typically based outside of the U.S.), often resulting in identity theft or other monetary losses. Though a final version of the bill itself has not yet been made public, there is optimism among the parties that the negotiated version, which apparently incorporates provisions from both the House’s Stopping Bad Robocalls Act and the Senate’s Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, “can be signed into law by the President,” per House and Senate leaders.
Robocalls are an issue Americans have dealt with for some time. They are phone calls that use a computerized auto-dialer to deliver a pre-recorded message, and are often associated telemarketing, political campaigns, and sometimes even scams. According to the joint statement from the committees, the newly merged bill, “will require telephone carriers to verify calls and allow robocalls to be blocked in a consistent and transparent way, all at no extra charge to consumers,” and will give “the [Federal Communications Commission (FCC)] and law enforcement the ability to quickly go after scammers.” While not in its final form, lawmakers have indicated a final version should be expected “in the coming days,” likely indicating the bill will be in front of the president for signature before 2020.
The efforts of the bill, cited by lawmakers, is consistent with the provisions of the individual bills themselves. For example, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act was set to give the FCC greater authority to enact rules to prevent unwanted robocalls, while allowing consumers to revoke consent they have previously given to receive such calls. It also extends the statute of limitations from one year to four years for callers violating the robocall prohibitions. However, perhaps most significantly, it “would require the implementation of nationwide call authentication technology so consumers can again trust the number that appears on their caller ID.”
Similarly, the TRACED Act also allows the FCC to promulgate rules establishing when a provider may block a voice call based on information provided by the call authentication framework, while implementing a forfeiture penalty for violations (with or without intent) of the prohibition on certain robocalls. In particular, the FCC would have the authority to issue civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on individuals who intentionally violate the statutes provisions.
Though it is unclear at this time which provisions from each bill will survive the final draft, in the time of extreme political division, the bipartisan efforts made to draft this joint bill make it promising that a signature from the president will be forthcoming on an issue that has plagued U.S. citizens for years. As House and Senate leaders articulated in their joint statement, the hope is that this bill will “put Americans back in charge of their phones.” While legislation should provide additional protections, all consumers are encouraged to avoid disclosure of any personal information to unknown callers, and, instead, to consider instead directly contacting any supposed seller using verified contact information