By Kirsten Prylinski
It is no secret that robocalls tend to be aggravating. You receive a call from an unknown number, you step out of the room to pick it up, and you’re met with an automated system that leaves you irritated and annoyed. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), robocalls are the number one complaint by consumers. The FCC reports that last year, the number of robocalls hit an alarming 52.9 billion calls, a 47% increase since 2017. In the first half of this year alone, the FCC stated that more than 35,000 customers had complained about the nuisance of robocalls.
Both the FCC and Congress are working together to eliminate illegal robocalls from your cell phone. The FCC has recently been urging phone companies to create some kind of verification system that screens calls before they make it to your cell phone. Some companies like Verizon have created a free app that customers can download and use on their own. The app would install a verification system on to the consumer’s phone as a way to filter out some of their robocalls. However, Congress does not seem fully satisfied with the app because they continue to push forward with the new legislation.
Congress has gotten more involved in the effort to stop illegal robocalls. A bill is making its way to becoming law and would require phone companies to take stronger action in authenticating phone calls before they make it through to a consumer’s phone. Specifically, calls that lure people into scams. There are already laws that have been put into place, such as the Truth in Caller ID Act passed in 2009. However, the act only applied to telephone calls and did not address text messages or international calls. This new law will apply to the extended range of calls both domestic and international, as well as text messages. Their goal is to protect the consumer from illegal calls or fraudulent activity. The passing of this bill may not stop anyone from making these illegal calls, but it can allow for much harsher penalties for those who are involved in making these illegal calls while also protecting the consumer. The bill also serves as a mechanism that allows the FCC to go after bad actors.
While most people can agree that a decrease in the number of robocalls that come through to their phones, wouldn’t be a bad thing, there is something to be said in the amount of discretion that would be given to phone companies in what calls come through to a consumer’s phone. A large majority of people are on board with the software that phone companies would use to protect them from fraudulent or inconvenient phone calls. However, others hesitate to give up the discretion on what calls come through to their phones. Specifically, allowing the government and phone companies to crack down on robocalls could ultimately give the government and cell phone companies too broad of power in deciding what calls come through on to people’s phones.
It is safe to assume that most people who own cell phones have no problem with the FCC and their service providers warding off spam calls. However, the software to keep robocalls from coming through to your phone already exists. This type of software has been available to consumers for some time now and can be purchased by any individual who wishes to screen the calls coming to their phone. However, the protection that the FCC and phone companies as a whole could provide, is much stronger than the protection available to someone installing their own software.
While some people may wish to hear from a telemarketer or a salesperson, most people do not want to be bothered by robocalls. Though these new laws could give phone companies and the FCC a broader discretionary power, it is ultimately a power that most agree they should have. Recently, more and more people have been defrauded by scams that could have been prevented if the illegal call was not able to come through to their phone. Though it may take time, the broader discretion seems like a step towards giving consumers peace of mind about who their calls are coming from.
Student Bio: Kirsten Prylinski will be graduating in the Spring of 2020. She attended undergraduate at Auburn University where she got her degree in Business Administration. She plans to practice criminal law upon her graduation from law school.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.