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Two new Senate bills take aim at unsolicited robocalls

Recognizing the failure of the TCPA to curb the growth of unsolicited robocalls, Senators in November proposed two separate bills—the REAL PEACE Act and the TRACED Act–which both aim to give regulators more power to stop robocallers.

 

Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein (California), Richard Blumenthal, (Connecticut), and Amy Klobuchar, (Minnesota), introduced the Robocall Elimination at Last Protecting Every American Consumer’s Ears (“REAL PEACE”) Act, which would end the common carrier exemption that prevents the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) from regulating common carriers.  The common carrier exemption was originally put in place because common carriers were heavily regulated by other agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”). In light of those regulations, the FTC Act’s catch-all protection against “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” was unnecessary. But as the regulations governing common carriers have been rolled back in recent years, criticism of the common carrier exemption has grown.

Removing the common carrier exemption would allow the FTC to go after the truly bad actors—the scammers and fraudsters who send mass robocalls to unsuspecting consumers and hide their true identity by “spoofing” their calls.

 

According to a press release issued by Senator Feinstein’s office on November 28, 2018, [t]echnology advances have helped robocallers hide their true identity and location, making it easier for them to relentlessly target and harass Americans. Our bill will close an FTC loophole so we can finally put illegal robocallers out of business.” The press release estimates that illegal robocalls cost Americans up to $9.5 billion a year.

 

But wait, there’s more. A bi-partison collaboration called the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, also targets robocallers—in particular the worst offenders who purposely violate telemarketing rules—by giving regulators more power to go after them and punish them.

 

The bi-partison TRACED Act, which is sponsored by Republican South Dakota Senator John Thune and Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, would, among other things require all service providers to adopt call authentication and call blocking technology. It would also broaden the FCC’s authority to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call and would extend the window of time for the FCC to bring civil enforcement actions against violators, extending the statute of limitations from one year to three years.

 

In a November 16, 2018 press release, Senator Thune’s remarks underscored how the new law would target the worst offenders, the scammers, and the intentional violators. “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,” said Senator Thune. “Existing civil penalty rules were designed to impose penalties on lawful telemarketers who make mistakes. This enforcement regime is totally inadequate for scam artists and we need do more to separate enforcement of carelessness and other mistakes from more sinister actors.”

 

We will continue to track this legislation and will provide updates as it progresses.

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