Legislation Combatting Unwanted, Illegal Robocalls Passes Senate

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, joined his Senate colleagues today in passing S. 151, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, legislation introduced by Senators Thune (R-SD) and Markey (D-MA) that Sullivan cosponsored. The bipartisan legislation would provide regulators and law enforcement additional tools to prevent illegal robocalls and punish illegal robocallers, and would provide consumers with additional means of avoiding spoofed calls. The bill’s enhanced penalties and enforcement tools are limited to intentional scammers, and would not give regulators new authority to go after companies calling in good faith that accidentally violate robocall restrictions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) routinely cite illegal and unwanted robocalls as their number-one category of complaints.

“As all Americans can attest, the annoyance and harassment of robocalls have gotten dramatically worse in recent years, with bots and bad actors even now able to call Americans with what appears to be their own phone number,” said Senator Sullivan. “I’ve heard from so many of my constituents asking what we can do to fight back. I’m glad to say the Senate is moving this important piece of legislation that will give the FCC new tools with teeth to hold robocallers to account, and provide everyday Americans with new protections against these seemingly endless intrusions. I call on my colleagues in the House to quickly pass this bill so that we can finally give all Americans some relief.”

Specifically, the TRACED Act:

  • Allows the FCC to impose civil forfeiture penalties for any person found by the FCC to be in violation of existing prohibitions on robocalls (specifically, section 227 of the Communications Act of 1934); creates enhanced penalties for cases of intentional violations; and extends the statute of limitations for intentional violations of the restrictions against robocalling from one year to three years;
  • Directs the FCC to adopt rules implementing the civil forfeiture provision within 270 days of enactment; and requires the FCC to prepare an annual report to Congress on enforcement of laws, regulations, and policies relating to robocalls and spoofed calls;
  • Directs the FCC to adopt rules requiring telephone providers to use call authentication technologies (the STIR/SHAKEN authentication framework) to combat “neighborhood spoofing,” where robocalls appear to be coming from a local area code; requires the FCC to create a “safe harbor,” under which a carrier could be protected from liability for unintended or inadvertent blocking of calls, or for the unintended or inadvertent misidentification of the level of trust for individual calls based on information provided by the call authentication framework, and requires FCC to issue a report on the efficacy of the authentication framework within three years of enactment and every three years thereafter;
  • Directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking within one year of enactment to help protect subscribers receiving unwanted calls or text messages from callers using unauthenticated numbers; and
  • Requires the FCC to commence a proceeding within 180 days of enactment to determine whether it can reduce access to phone numbers by potential violators of anti-robocall rules; and imposes liability on individuals who knowingly aid parties in obtaining number resources.

Fifty-four state and territory attorneys general sent a letter of support for the TRACED Act, and all FCC and FTC commissioners, major industry associations, and leading consumer groups have put their support behind the bill.

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