On Thursday, May 23, the anti-robocall TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement & Deterrent) Act passed through the national Senate with a vote of 97 — 1. The measure enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support; its primary co-sponsors were Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Ed Markey (D-MA).
“The TRACED Act provides tools to discourage illegal robocalls, protect consumers, and crack down on offenders,” Thune said in his Senate pitch of the TRACED Act on Thursday.
Robocalls are automated phone calls made by computerized auto-dialer systems. The initiator of a robocall only has to feed a list of phone numbers into the auto-dialer system, and the system will proceed to contact each of those numbers with an automated message. Robocalls are often used by political campaigns and telemarketing firms to contact potential voters or customers, respectively, though telephone and internet scam artists also utilize robocalls to contact potential marks and extract money or information from them.
These marks are often part of “vulnerable populations, like elderly Americans, who are sometimes less technologically savvy,” Thune said.
Many predatory robocall techniques are illegal and policed by the FCC, but Thune argued that the deterrent laws and penalties currently in place are not severe enough. The TRACED Act seeks to implement more robust anti-robocall technology and implement harsher fines against those found guilty of making illegal robocalls.
For example, the bill requires that within 18 months of its enactment, all phone service providers make use of STIR / SHAKEN number verification technology. This technology would attempt to ensure that each calling number is an authenticated human phone number, as many autodialer systems make use of randomized, non-verifiable numbers. It also raises the fines that the FCC is allowed to levy against those found guilty of making illegal robocalls — up to $10,000 per individual call — and extends the period during which the FCC is allowed to pursue suspected con artists from one year to three years.
Thune’s press secretary Katie Lingle said the senator was motivated to introduce this bill because of an episode that occurred during his time as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
“...The committee heard testimony under subpoena from Adrian Abramovich, the president of a now defunct company called Marketing Strategy Leaders. Abramovich, who has since been assessed a $120 million fine by the FCC for making nearly 100 million robocalls between 2015 and 2016, described a telemarketing operation as rather easy to put together and nimble, thus making enforcement difficult,” Lingle said. “His identification by the FCC and assessment of civil penalties raised questions for the committee about the lack of criminal prosecution for offenders caught intentionally and repeatedly violating telemarketing laws.”
Lingle also said that the TRACED Act’s penalties and enforcement tools were limited to “intentional” scammers, but she did not specify how the FCC would know to differentiate between said scammers and those operating legal robocalls in good faith. The bill itself contains a clause that limits the liability of voice service providers, so long as they follow the provisions of the measure and implement the STIR/SHAKEN authentication system.
At press time, neither Sen. Thune nor Lingle offered comment on how the bill may affect caller privacy.
The measure will now head to the House, where Sen. Thune said he hoped it would be received just as well.