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Industry and Government Join Forces to Combat Robocalling

On September 8, 2021, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), in coordination with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, kicked off its Robocall Summit. The Summit included a series of panel discussions with industry representatives, state attorneys general (AGs), and enforcers from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), all focused on highlighting their respective efforts to trace and eliminate illegal robocalls. The following are our key takeaways from the presentations:

Experts and Advocates Call for Greater Accountability and Improved Legislation

  • An industry representative called for U.S.-based providers that carry illegal robocall traffic to be identified and held accountable. These providers are not only paid to carry these calls; they also have the ability to identify suspicious calling patterns (e.g., short-duration calls to millions of phone numbers originating from thousands of different phone numbers a day).
  • Panelists called for providers to analyze customer traffic on a daily basis and stop inexplicable or suspicious traffic within forty-eight hours on the grounds that failure to do so could give rise to liability under the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and other state and federal consumer protection laws.
  • The former Chief Technology Officer of the FCC, Henning Schulzrinne, debunked several misconceptions about telephone numbers, including the idea that spoofed telephone numbers cannot be traced by law enforcement.
  • Schulzrinne also explained how STIR/SHAKEN will improve trust in caller ID by allowing callers to establish that they are “authorized to use the calling number.”
  • Yet, industry is already seeing suspicious calls authenticated under STIR/SHAKEN, indicating that illegal robocallers are industrious and may already be burning through legitimate telephone numbers.
  • Consumer advocates and state AGs are actively discussing several options for improving the TCPA. Some of those options include the incorporation of an assisting and facilitating provision into the TCPA and language that expands the definition of a telephone solicitation to include any call made to “wrongfully obtain anything of value.”

Industry Confirms: Multi-Pronged Attack Needed

  • The fight against robocalls will require industry and regulators to use every tool in their tool box, including: call blocking and labeling; STIR/SHAKEN; industry traceback; network blocking; enforcement; and customer education.
  • Several panelists reiterated that STIR/SHAKEN on its own will not be a cure-all for the robocall scourge. For example, STIR/SHAKEN will be able to authenticate caller ID information, but it will not provide a called party, or regulators, with any information about the content of the call.
  • The Industry Traceback Group (ITG), led by USTelecom, has dramatically improved the speed with which providers and law enforcement can trace the source of illegal robocall traffic, with some tracebacks being completed in less than 24 hours.
  • Multiple industry representatives confirmed that they have fully implemented the 2019 state AG Anti-Robocall Principles and are starting to see more service providers terminate customers responsible for illegal traffic.

State AGs and Federal Partners Continue To Battle Robocallers and VoIP Service Providers

  • State AGs will continue to focus on pursuing U.S.-based VoIP providers who facilitate illegal robocalls. Depending upon the facts of the case, an AG may either shut down the provider or require the provider to enhance its customer screening and call monitoring practices.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice is taking a similar approach and will prosecute VoIP providers, both domestically and abroad, who knowingly facilitate fraud.
  • The FTC will continue to partner with state AGs to bring illegal robocall cases, including those involving VoIP providers and ringless voicemail. The FTC confirmed that consumer complaints remain critical to identifying the targets of their enforcement actions.
  • The FCC is increasingly relying on its cease and desist authority to combat illegal robocalls and has issued six such letters since the beginning of March 2021. The FCC anticipates that its new robocall complaint portal for private entities (not yet operational) will further aid the agency in its enforcement efforts.