Yesterday, January 30, the two Federal agencies that police illegal robocalls – the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – flexed their regulatory authority in a targeted fashion.
First, the FCC proposed a USD $12.9 million forfeiture against one Scott Rhodes (a/ka Scott David Rhodes and other apparent variations) “for apparently using caller ID spoofing in thousands of robocalls that targeted specific communities….”
In announcing the Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), the agency gave various examples of how the caller made “unlawful, spoofed robocalls” to California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa and Virginia. In one example, the FCC noted that the caller apparently made “827 spoofed robocalls… [to Brooklyn, Iowa residents] following the murder of a local college student and arrest of an illegal alien…for the crime.” Other targets included political races and candidates and a newspaper that “exposed the identity of the caller as the robocaller involved in other calling campaigns.”
According to the FCC, the “caller appears to have used an online calling platform to intentionally manipulate caller ID information….” As a result, the calls appeared to come from local numbers – “a technique called ‘neighborhood spoofing.’”
Four FCC Commissioners voted in favor of the NAL. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissented because the “fine in this enforcement action is nowhere near as high as it should be given that the individual behind this mass of robocalls was responsible for no less than six separate spoofing campaigns. In fact, it falls far short of the maximum fine the agency could have levied.” Interestingly, although voting in favor of the NAL, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly warned that the Commission “need[ed] to be especially careful not to play fast and loose with the statute when speech intended to persuade others or influence public opinion—in other words, political speech—is involved. Putting aside my disagreement as to Rhodes’ motive, the item at least appears to apply the statute in a content- or viewpoint-based manner.” A copy of the NAL text is here.
In a more widespread action, the FTC staff sent letters to 19 Voice over Internet service providers (VoIP), “warning them that ‘assisting and facilitating’ illegal telemarketing or robocalling is against the law.” The agency staff noted that “‘VoIP service providers play a unique role in the robocall ecosystem, allowing fraudsters and abusive telemarketers to call consumers at a fraction of a penny per minute.’” The warning letters were to put the service providers, whose names were not disclosed, on notice that the FTC “‘will take action when they knowingly facilitate illegal robocalls’” in violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule administered by the agency. Conduct listed in the letter includes “initiating pre-recorded telemarketing robocalls, unless the seller has express written permission to call.”
TCPAWorld will continue to monitor enforcement developments such as these and others that may emerge from the enactment of the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act.