Thursday, May 19, 2016

McCaskill Takes Wind out of Flimsy Arguments for Loosening Robocall Restrictions

The Worth County Sheriff's Department routinely gets calls from people who got called by phone scammers. Now, certain multinational corporations want to make even more robocalls to people. Senator Claire McCaskill is seeking to fight these efforts.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today used a Senate hearing to continue her fight to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls, and push back against those who want to make it easier for unwanted calls to reach consumers.   “This is not that complicated,” said McCaskill, a senior member of the Commerce Committee, addressing claims that a variety of businesses, including hospitals, are facing lawsuits from people receiving unsolicited robocalls. “All you have to have is the permission of the person you're calling. I mean you guys make this sound like it’s an impossible thing to do… you have somebody who leaves your hospital and you guys can’t manage to get their permission to follow up with them by phone? Why is that so economically difficult for you?... You guys need to understand this. This is the biggest consumer problem in the country. No bigger problem… and you all are in here whining about these poor businesses and [saying] consumers really want them—they don’t want them. They don’t want them.”

 McCaskill continued: “We know from hearings we’ve had in this committee that the technology is available that the carriers could adopt. And it’s been clarified by the [Federal Communications Commission] that there is no duty to connect calls that prohibits them from adopting this technology. They can adopt the technology and make it available to the consumers that allows the consumers to opt out, without having to take these calls. And what we’re really trying to do here—we’re not trying to punish people with litigation—we’re trying to put power in the hands of the consumer.”

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, signed into law in 1991, prohibits automated calls and text messages to consumers’ cell phones without express consent of the recipient. Violators are subject to fines ranging from $500 to $1,500 per violation, and some companies have faced large fines and lawsuits in recent years. A number of business groups are seeking changes to the law that would make it easier to place robocalls to cell phones.   McCaskill has introduced legislation, the Robocall and Call Spoofing Enforcement Improvements Act, to increase fines and penalties on robocall violators, streamline enforcement, expand the statute of limitations on violators, and enforce anti-spoofing provisions against violators outside the U.S. who target consumers inside the U.S.   McCaskill—an outspoken critic of a provision of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 that rolled back the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by allowing callers collecting federal debts to make robocalls—recently announced her support for a bill that would repeal this provision. The legislation is backed by several prominent consumer groups, including the Consumer Federation of American and Consumers Union.

After years of sustained pressure from McCaskill, the nation’s top telecom regulator last year voted 4-1 to clarify that phone companies can legally offer to their customers technology already available in other countries to block robocalls and other unwanted calls. McCaskill has strongly encouraged companies to adopt this technology;helped lead a Senate hearing on robocalls, call spoofing, and other phone scams; and introduced bipartisan legislation, along with Republican Senator Susan Collins, to prevent scam artists from using phone technology to target victims.   In the lead-up to tax day, McCaskill recently urged the Internal Revenue Service to combat fraudulent robocalls from scam artists pretending to be government tax agents.

Last year, when Congress authorized the use of robocalls for government debt collection. McCaskill opposed these efforts, out of concern that such calls would confuse consumers and muddy the agency’s message that the IRS never calls individuals. The agency’s messaging efforts were partly spurred by a McCaskill investigation last year.

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