In a recent blog entitled “How to protect yourself from unknown telephone calls”, we touched briefly upon the concept of robocalls. Lately, robocalls have been front and center in the public discourse as new legislation has been introduced to fight them. In this article, we will look at the new Bill and discuss whether or not it will actually eliminate robocalls.
The current reality
Americans received more than 26 billion robocalls in 2018 — a 46% increase over 2017. In other words, this is equivalent to every man, woman, and child in the United States receiving over 80 robocalls last year.
The TRACED Act
Recently, the United States Government has introduced new legislation entitled “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act or the TRACED Act.” Designed to crack down on unwanted robocalls, the TRACED Act would impose significantly harsher penalties of as much as $10,000 per call on scammers who knowingly disregard regulations on telephone calls.
The legislation which passed through the US Senate with a vote of 97-1 would also increase the statute of limitations to three years, from its current mark of one year for violations. The TRACED Act also opens the door for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop further regulations that would be designed to protect consumers from unsolicited and unwanted calls.
The TRACED Act would further accelerate the rollout of new “call authentication” technologies that the internet security world and carriers are working hard to develop.
Carriers like T-Mobile have already introduced plans to roll out technology that would alert its clients if an incoming telephone call was placed by a human or through a mass-dialer.
FCC crackdown on robocalls
The Federal Communications Commission restated their stance that phone companies may legally block unwanted robocalls and can even apply new authentication technologies to their customers’ accounts by default.
This has led the phone companies to draft a set of standards aimed at verifying the owner of a particular phone number. The purpose of these standards is to create a series of best practices that are designed to reduce the number of spoofing type robocalls, where scammers can hide behind legitimate phone numbers.
Opposition to the TRACED ACT
In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tabled on the 30th of May, a coalition of organizations has voiced their opposition to the TRACED ACT. The coalition argued the results of the TRACED ACT if adopted as drafted, “would result in the erroneous blocking of lawful calls — including urgent calls affecting consumer health, safety, and financial wellbeing. Public safety alerts, fraud alerts, data security breach notifications, product recall notices, healthcare, and prescription reminders, and power outage updates all could be inadvertently blocked.”
The coalition has urged the FCC to further seek comment on the provisions in the draft Declaratory Ruling prior to issuing a ruling. They feel that this would invite public comment on approaches that the Commission can take to address illegal, robocalls while minimizing the risk that consumers will miss important, often time-sensitive calls affecting their health, safety, or financial well-being.
What is next – will legislation work?
The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on the anti-robocall proposal over the next few weeks as well as rule to enable all carriers to implement call blocking based upon new authentication standards that the industry is expected to adopt sometime this year.
With robocalls being the number one complaint that the FCC receives, stiffer legislation is sure to pass.
Carriers will roll-out new authentication technology that will help differentiate a robot call from a human caller.
So will all of this work? It is a start, but for the scammer, as long as they can generate money, robocalls will continue. All of this will only result in a reprieve as the scammer thinks of new ways to ply their trade.
Here is the TRACED Act Summary
This bill implements a forfeiture penalty for violations (with or without intent) of the prohibition on certain robocalls. The bill also removes an annual reporting requirement for enforcement relating to unsolicited facsimile advertisements.
The bill requires voice service providers to develop call authentication technologies.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shall promulgate rules establishing when a provider may block a voice call based on information provided by the call authentication framework, but also must establish a process to permit a calling party adversely affected by the framework to verify the authenticity of their calls. The FCC shall also initiate a rulemaking to help protect a subscriber from receiving unwanted calls or texts from a caller using an unauthenticated number.
This bill requires the Department of Justice and the FCC to assemble an interagency working group to study and report to Congress on the enforcement of the prohibition of certain robocalls. Specifically, the working group will look into how to better enforce against robocalls by examining issues like the types of laws, policies, or constraints that could be inhibiting enforcement.
The bill requires the FCC to initiate a proceeding to determine whether its policies regarding access to number resources could be modified to help reduce access to numbers by potential robocall violators.
The Bill can be found on the US Congress Website.