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  • Trump signs bill to combat robocalls

    Federal Issues

    On December 30, President Trump signed S. 151—the “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act” (TRACED Act, Public Law 116-105)—which, among other things, grants the FCC authority to promulgate rules to combat illegal robocalls and requires voice service providers to develop call authentication technologies. The TRACED Act, Public Law No. 116-105, also directs the FCC to issue regulations to ensure that banks and other callers have effective redress options if their calls are erroneously blocked by call-blocking services.

    Highlights of the TRACED Act include:

    • STIR/SHAKEN implementation. Within 18 months of enactment, the FCC must require voice service providers to implement “STIR/SHAKEN” caller ID authentication framework protocols at no additional charge to consumers. Providers will be required to adopt call authentication technologies to enable telephone carriers to verify the authenticity of the calling party’s calls. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
    • Increased enforcement authority. The FCC will be able to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, with additional penalties of as much as $10,000 for intentional violations. The TRACED Act also extends the window for the FCC to take enforcement action against intentional violations to four years.
    • FCC requirements. The TRACED Act directs the FCC to (i) initiate a rulemaking to protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers who use unauthenticated numbers; (ii) initiate a proceeding to protect parties from “one-ring” scams “in which a caller makes a call and allows the call to ring the called party for a short duration, in order to prompt the called party to return the call, thereby subjecting the called party to charges”; (iii) submit annual robocall reports to Congress; and (iv) establish a working group to issue best practices to prevent hospitals from receiving illegal robocalls.
    • Agency collaboration. The TRACED Act directs the DOJ and the FTC to convene an interagency working group comprised of relevant federal departments and agencies, such as the Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, FTC, and CFPB, which must consult with state attorneys general and other non-federal entities, to identify and report to Congress on recommendations and methods for improving, preventing, and prosecuting robocall violations.
    • Criminal prosecutions. The TRACED Act encourages the DOJ to bring more criminal prosecutions against robocallers.

    Earlier on December 20, the FCC issued a public notice seeking industry input on current practices for blocking unwanted calls as part of a study required by last June’s declaratory ruling and proposed rulemaking (covered by InfoBytes here; Federal Register notice here). The FCC will use the information collected in an upcoming report on the current state of call blocking efforts. Comments will be accepted until January 29, and reply comments are due on or before February 28.

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation Robocalls FCC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security DOJ

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  • TRO issued against VoIP service provider in card interest reduction scam

    Federal Issues

    On December 5, the FTC and the Ohio attorney general announced that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against a VoIP service provider and its foreign counterpart for facilitating (or consciously avoiding knowing of) a “phony” credit card interest rate reduction scheme committed by one of its client companies at the center of a joint FTC/Ohio AG action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the original complaint alleged that a group of individuals and companies—working in concert and claiming they could reduce interest rates on credit cards—had violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various Ohio consumer protection laws. In addition to obtaining a TRO against the most recent alleged participants, the FTC and Ohio AG amended their July complaint to add the telecom companies as defendants alleging the companies “played a key role in robocalling consumers to promote a credit card interest reductions scheme.”

    Federal Issues FTC State Attorney General Consumer Finance Robocalls Credit Cards TRO Courts FTC Act Telemarketing Sales Rule

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  • California addresses robocall spoofing

    State Issues

    On October 2, the California governor signed SB 208, the “Consumer Call Protection Act of 2019,” which requires telecommunications service providers (TSPs) to implement specified technological protocols to verify and authenticate caller identification for calls carried over an internet protocol network. Specifically, the bill requires TSPs to implement “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) and Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs (SHAKEN) protocols or alternative technology that provides comparable or superior capability by January 1, 2021. The bill also authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission and the Attorney General to enforce certain parts of 47 U.S.C. 227, making it unlawful for any person within the U.S. to cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June 2019, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requiring voice providers to implement the “SHAKEN/STIR” caller ID authentication framework. The FCC argued that once “SHAKEN/STIR” is implemented, it would “reduce the effectiveness of illegal spoofing and allow bad actors to be identified more easily.” 

    State Issues State Legislation State Attorney General FCC Robocalls Federal Issues Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • District Court: Debt collector must pay $267 million in robocall damages

    Courts

    On September 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California entered a final judgment against a debt collection agency that was found guilty of violating the TCPA by making more than 500,000 unsolicited robocalls using autodialers. The court’s final judgment is consistent with the jury’s verdict from last May, which identified four classes of individuals: two involving consumers who received skip-tracing calls or pre-recorded messages, and two involving non-debtor consumers who never had debt collection accounts with the defendant but received calls on their cell phones. In a February 2018 order, the court resolved cross motions for summary judgment, affirming that the dialers used by the defendant to place the calls constituted autodialers within the meaning of the TCPA and that the defendant lacked prior express consent to place the calls. Under the more than $267 million final judgment, class members will each receive $500 per call, with one of the named plaintiffs receiving $7,000 for his individual TCPA claim.

    Courts TCPA Debt Collection Robocalls Autodialer

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  • District Court allows TCPA class action to proceed against auto company

    Courts

    On August 27, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied a car manufacturer’s motion to dismiss a class action alleging that it violated the TCPA by sending unwanted automated text messages. According to the opinion, after a consumer visited a car dealership, she allegedly received unsolicited text messages to her cell phone from the dealership. The consumer filed a proposed class action alleging the corporate car manufacturer “directed, encouraged, and authorized its dealerships [] to send text messages promoting the sale of [the] automobiles to [the consumer] and other members of the proposed Class, pursuant to a common marketing scheme” and that the text messages were transmitted using an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) in violation of the TCPA. The manufacturer moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the plaintiff failed to allege (i) that the manufacturer sent the text messages or that the dealership sent the text messages as the manufacturer’s agent; and (ii) that the text messages were sent using an autodialer.

    The court first determined that the plaintiff plausibly alleged that the manufacturer directly sent the text messages, or, in the alternative, that the dealership was acting as the manufacturer’s agent when the texts were sent. Furthermore, the plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer used hardware and software programs with the requisite capabilities to qualify as an autodialer pursuant to the 9th Circuit’s decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Courts TCPA Robocalls Autodialer Class Action

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  • State AGs and VSPs to collaborate on robocalls

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On August 22, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced a bipartisan agreement between 51 state attorneys general and 12 voice service providers, adopting eight principles for fighting illegal robocalls and preventing consumer fraud. Under the principles, the voice providers will: (i) offer no-cost call-blocking technology, including easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools; (ii) implement STIR/SHAKEN call authentication (as previously covered by InfoBytes, in June the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requiring voice providers to implement the caller ID authentication framework); (iii) analyze and monitor high-volume voice network traffic for robocall patterns; (iv) investigate suspicious calls and calling patterns and take appropriate action; (v) confirm identities of new commercial customers; (vi) require traceback cooperation in new and renegotiated contracts; (vii) provide for timely and comprehensive law enforcement efforts through cooperation in traceback investigations; and (viii) communicate with state attorneys general about recognized robocall scams and trends and potential solutions. AG Stein noted that the principles will also “make it easier for attorneys general to investigate and prosecute bad actors.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security State Attorney General Robocalls FCC

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  • District Court upholds $925 million TCPA jury verdict against direct sales company

    Courts

    On August 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon upheld a $925 million jury verdict against a direct sales company in a TCPA class action lawsuit, denying the company’s motion to decertify the class. According to the opinion, the named plaintiff brought the 2015 class action lawsuit alleging the company violated the TCPA by calling consumers using an artificial or prerecorded voice without their consent. In April 2019, a jury concluded that a total of 1,850,436 calls were made using an artificial or prerecorded voice to either cell phones or landlines. However, in June 2019, the FCC granted a request made by the company in September 2017 for a retroactive waiver of the agency’s 2012 new written consent requirements for telemarketing robocalls, but only as it applied to “calls for which the petitioner had obtained some form of written consent.” Based on the newly-obtained waiver from the FCC, the company moved to decertify the class arguing that, among other things, (i) the named plaintiff lacked standing, and (ii) consent is now an individualized issue that “predominates” over the class issues. The court rejected these arguments, concluding that the company waived the affirmative defense of consent by not raising the defense earlier in the litigation when it knew its FCC waiver was pending. Specifically, the court reasoned that the failure to raise the issue “given the likelihood that the FCC would grant its waiver petition was unreasonable.” The court also rejected the company’s predominance arguments, concluding that whether the calls were made to a landline or cellphone is irrelevant as TCPA liability “attaches to any call made [to] either” type. The court concluded that class certification was proper, upholding the jury’s verdict.

    Courts TCPA Robocalls Class Action FCC

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  • FCC adopts rules addressing spoofed texts and international robocalls

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On August 1, the FCC announced the adoption of new rules that will extend the Truth in Caller ID’s prohibitions against robocalls to caller ID spoofing of text messages and international calls, and implement measures passed last year in the RAY BAUM’s Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the rules are supported by a bipartisan group of more than 40 state attorneys general, and will allow the FCC to bring enforcement actions and assess fines on international players who try to defraud U.S. residents. However, while Commissioner Michael O’Rielly voted in favor of the measure, he raised concerns that the FCC may encounter problems when trying to enforce the rules across international borders. “As I expressed before, the expanded extraterritorial jurisdiction may prove difficult to execute in uncooperative nations and come back to bite us in other contexts,” O’Rielly stated. “In addition, the definitions of text messaging and voice services are broader than my liking and may cause future unintended consequences.” However, his statement did not specify what these unintended consequences might be.

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FCC Robocalls

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  • District Court strikes class certification from robocall suit

    Courts

    On July 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a rental car company’s (defendant) motion to strike class allegations in a TCPA suit over alleged robocalls. The plaintiff, whose telephone number was listed on a rental contract between his mother and the defendant in addition to the mother’s telephone number, claimed he received multiple prerecorded messages on his cellphone from the defendant after his mother failed to return the car when it was due, even though he had allegedly opted out of the communications. The plaintiff commenced the suit, ultimately seeking certification of an amended putative class of all noncustomers who received automated calls from the defendant “where such [a] call was placed after a request to stop calling that phone number.” In August 2018, the court denied summary judgment to the defendant, who subsequently moved to strike class allegations. The court granted the defendant’s motion, stating there were too many contested facts that raised unique defenses particular to the plaintiff’s case, including (i) the type of consent to receive calls that the plaintiff’s mother gave under her contract; (ii) whether the calls to the plaintiff’s phone were robocalls; and (iii) whether and how the plaintiff revoked the consent given by his mother.

    Courts TCPA Autodialer Robocalls Class Action

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  • 8th Circuit affirms reduction in TCPA statutory damages from $1.6 billion to $32 million

    Courts

    On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision to reduce a $1.6 billion award in statutory damages for TCPA violations to $32.4 million after the court determined the original award violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The named plaintiffs in the class action alleged that parties involved in the financing and marketing campaign of a film with religious and political themes violated the TCPA through the use of a telephone campaign in which approximately 3.2 million prerecorded robocalls were made in the course of a week. The plaintiffs—who received two of these messages on their answering machine—filed an appeal after the district court concluded that the original award was “‘obviously unreasonable and wholly disproportionate to the offense’” and reduced the statutory damages awarded by a jury from $500 per call to $10 per call.

    On appeal, the 8th Circuit addressed several issues, including (i) whether the plaintiffs alleged a concrete injury under the TCPA; (ii) whether the district court abused its discretion concerning instructions on direct liability against one of the defendants; and (iii) whether the court erred in finding the amount of statutory damages to be unconstitutional. The appellate court first reviewed whether the plaintiffs had alleged a sufficiently concrete injury under the TCPA. According to the opinion, “[t]he harm to be remedied by the TCPA was ‘the unwanted intrusion and nuisance of unsolicited telemarketing phone calls and fax advertisements. . . .The [plaintiffs’] harm . . . was the receipt of two telemarketing messages without prior consent. These harms bear a close relationship to the types of harms traditionally remedied by tort law, particularly the law of nuisance.” However, the appellate court stated that the district court was correct to reject the plaintiffs’ direct liability instructions against the defendant who helped finance the film, writing that the plaintiffs “improperly blurred the line between direct and agency liability” and that “to be held directly liable, the defendant must be the one who ‘initiates’ the call,” which the financing defendant did not do. Finally, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the $1.6 billion award violated the Due Process Clause, and highlighted evidence that the advertiser “plausibly believed it was not violating the TCPA” and “had prior consent to call the recipients about religious liberty,” which was a predominant theme of the film being promoted. Moreover, the court noted,”[t]he call campaign was conducted for only about a week,” and recipients could only hear the message about the film if they voluntarily opted in during the call. The court further reasoned that “the harm to the recipients was not severe—only about 7% of the calls made it to the third question, the one about the film. Under these facts, $1.6 billion is ‘so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable.’”

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Robocalls Eighth Circuit Appellate TCPA Class Action

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