There’s a technological arms race unfolding between the makers of robocalls and those trying to stop them. The invaders of our phone lines seem to have the upper hand, but lawmakers at the federal and state level are fighting back.
The unsolicited calls to our landlines and mobile phones are as unwelcome as a Patriots fan at a Bills tailgate. There are bills pending in Congress and in the State Legislature that would make it easier to escape the electronic pestering. We would welcome the passage of both.
The state bill, the Robocall Prevention Act, would prohibit the calls without the consent of the recipient and widen the attorney general’s enforcement powers, including new fines of up to $2,000 per call. The bill also requires phone companies to make call-blocking technology available free for consumers.
Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, is one of 19 co-sponsors of the Senate version.
“These calls aren’t just annoying – they’re dangerous, and often used to defraud unsuspecting consumers, seniors and vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, a bill sponsor.
The federal bill is called the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act. The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday passed the bipartisan bill by a vote of 26-0, sending it to the full Senate. The bill would give the federal government more power to hit violators with bigger fines as well as pushing AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other carriers to improve their technology so consumers can more easily distinguish between real calls and disguised ones. In the technique known as spoofing, callers mask their attempts to steal information or perpetrate a scam by using phone numbers that are similar to those they’re targeting.
How big a nuisance are robocalls? Americans last year received nearly 48 billion of them, 3 billion of those in New York State. Kennedy told WBEN Radio that Buffalonians received about 50 million of the calls in the first two months of this year.
Cellphones are not as besieged with automated calls compared to landlines. That is because most mobile carriers use a security protocol called STIR/SHAKEN that verifies that the number displayed on caller ID is the same number from which the call originated, to prevent spoofing. Verizon, AT&T and other carriers each have their own apps or add-ons that also filter out many of the calls.
The telemarketers and outright scammers are constantly searching for ways to evade or fool authentication technology. That’s why the state legislation’s imposition of fines would be a deterrent with real teeth.
The argument for federal legislation is that state laws can only go so far in stopping annoying calls originating in other states and far-flung countries.
Legitimate businesses can find honest ways to get their marketing messages across. Robocalls are not the way, and the more lawmakers can do to silence them, the better.