Two Congressmen are taking a stand on illegal robocalls, introducing a new Senate bill to tackle the epidemic of robocalls that has infuriated consumers across the country. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED) would increase criminal and civil penalties for malicious actors who repeatedly place illegal robocalls, and also grant the Federal Communications Commission broader authorities.
New Senate Bill Would Target Malicious Robocalls
“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,” according to Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who introduced the bill along with Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi.
In a press statement announcing the bill’s introduction, Thune explained that current robocall law is designed primarily to target “lawful telemarketers who make mistakes.”
But that approach is woefully inadequate when about half of all robocalls placed in this country are expected to be fraudulent in 2019. “This enforcement regime is totally inadequate for scam artists,” Thune writes, “and we need to do more to separate enforcement of carelessness and other mistakes from more sinister actors.”
Increasing Civil & Criminal Penalties For Robocall Violations
Under existing law, malicious actors who break the nation’s robocalling law face a fine of up to $10,000 per legal violation. The FCC has ramped up its enforcement of current robocall law in recent months, levying huge fines from businesses that break the law, including a $120 million penalty assessed against a Florida timeshare marketing company who spammed consumers with millions of fraudulent robocalls. TRACED would make placing such calls far more expensive, by increasing the criminal penalty to $30,000 for a continuing intentional violation. The fine could be levied over and over, for each day of continued violation.
Youmail, a company that offers robocall blocking technology, estimates that up to 5.1 billion robocalls were placed in October 2018. That’s nearly 2,000 robocalls placed every second.
Senators Thune and Markey also want to ramp up penalties on the civil side. If enacted, TRACED would increase the civil penalty for making an illegal robocall from $1,500 to up to $10,000 per illegal call or text, giving the FCC far more flexibility in choosing the proper course to prosecute robocall violations, according to Gizmodo.
The bill would also make it easier for prosecutors and the FCC to obtain civil asset forfeitures in cases when companies or individuals intentionally violate the provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a federal law that regulates the use of autodialer technology.
Extending The Statute Of Limitations On FCC Enforcement
TRACED would also increase the amount of time the Federal Communications Commission is allowed to pursue robocall cases, from 1 to 3 years after the illegal call is placed. In the past, the FCC has told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, for which Senator Thune is the chairman, that “even a one-year longer statute of limitations for enforcement of the TCPA would improve the Commission’s enforcement efforts against knowing and willful violators.”
Requiring The Adoption Of Call Authentication Technology
But TRACED doesn’t just ramp up the FCC’s enforcement actions against violators of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The bill would also focus its efforts on industry, which has a key role to play in stemming the scourge of robocalls.
The bill would require voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies aimed at filtering out “spoofed” robocalls, where robocallers hide their true caller ID information, often replacing it with local information from the recipient’s area. Call authentication technology would allow voice providers to certify a call’s true ID information and pass that certification along to other providers.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been a vocal proponent of call authentication. Last week, he called on major players in the telecom industry to adopt SHAKEN/STIR, a framework that would allow voice providers to authenticate caller ID information.
Encouraging Interagency Cooperation
As a final piece to the puzzle, TRACED would establish an interagency working group comprising both federal and state agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Communications Communication, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and state attorneys general, to provide Congress with ongoing recommendations on preventing and prosecuting malicious robocall violations.