TR Daily FCC Proposes Banning Spoofed Texts, International Calls
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Thursday, February 14, 2019

FCC Proposes Banning Spoofed Texts, International Calls

The FCC unanimously adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking today that proposes to ban illegal spoofed text messages and spoofed international calls.

“The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 prohibits anyone from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information (‘spoofing’) with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value. However, until the recent passage of the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018, these consumer protections did not extend to text messages or international calls,” the FCC noted in a news release on the NPRM, which was adopted in WC docket 18-335. “Today’s proposed rules would implement this new legislation, extending these prohibitions to short message service (SMS) and multimedia message service (MMS) text messages, calls originating from outside the United States to recipients within the United States, and additional types of voice calls, such as one-way interconnected VoIP calls.”

“Today’s proposed rules, if adopted, would ensure that the FCC is also able to bring enforcement actions against bad actors who spoof text messages and spoofers who seek out victims in this country from overseas,” the news release added. “The Commission received more than 52,000 complaints about spoofed calls in 2018. It is widely believed that many spoofed calls originate from overseas call centers.” The FCC says that more than 60% of the complaints it gets concern unwanted calls.

The item adopted today seeks comment on (1) “new or revised definitions of the following terms for purposes of section 227(e) of the Communications Act: ‘text message,’ ‘text messaging service,’ ‘voice service,’ ‘caller identification information,’ and ‘caller identification service,’”; and (2) “any other changes to the FCC’s Truth in Caller ID rules necessary to effectuate Congress’ intent in amending section 227(e),” according to a fact sheet released when the draft version of the item was released. “Pursuant to Section 503 of [the] RAY BAUM’s Act, we propose changes to our rules to cover additional communications services as well as calls that originate outside of the United States. This will expand the reach of robocall enforcement, so I fully support it,” Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in her statement at today’s FCC meeting. “Today the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) also releases a report on robocalls. This too has my support, as does the Chairman’s suggestion yesterday that we may need a rulemaking to require new caller identification technologies.”

“But I think rulemakings and reports have their limitations,” she added. “It’s action that counts. In the past twenty-four months, this agency has had no more than a handful of enforcement actions involving illegal robocalls schemes. Our work is too slow. We are trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. We need more dedicated resources. To this end, this month the Federal Communications Commission created a new division within our Enforcement Bureau that will focus on fraud, waste, and abuse in the universal service fund. Why not create a division that will combat robocalls? If year-in and year-out this is the single largest source of consumer complaints at this agency, how about organizing our enforcement efforts to reflect that? I think that’s what we need to do and I think the time to do it is now. Before spoofed calls, robocalls, Rachel calls, or any of it gets any worse.”

“I support today’s item, which initiates the process of implementing these new spoofing laws. We must continue to refine our tools, because we can be sure robocallers will try to find new and innovative ways to break through,” said Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “In this battle, this additional authority is essential and welcomed – the Commission will be better able to find illegal robocallers, stop them, and hold them accountable.”

In response to a question from a reporter at a news conference after the meeting, Mr. Starks expressed support for Ms. Rosenworcel’s proposal to establish a new Enforcement Bureau division to focus on robocalls, although he said he had just heard about the proposal for the first time.

“I don’t know what the mechanisms are to set up divisions,” Mr. Starks said. But he added, “I do think enforcement is a strong piece of the answer.”

“Congress has recognized the serious harm this kind of spoofing causes to American consumers,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement at today’s meeting. “These updates would allow the FCC to bring enforcement actions against spoofers who try to scam consumers — regardless of where the calls originate. They would also allow us to go after those who spoof text messages and voice calls to the extent that conduct isn’t already covered by our current rules (an example being one-way interconnected VoIP calls).”

Mr. Pai added, “Today’s efforts are the latest step in our ongoing fight against the persistent problem of malicious caller ID spoofing. In the past year-and-a-half, we’ve adopted rules allowing phone companies to stop spoofed calls before they even reach consumers’ phones. We’ve imposed or proposed fines totaling more than $237.5 million for illegal caller ID spoofing. We’ve held town halls around the country to educate older consumers about phone scams. We’ve urged the phone industry to help ‘traceback’ illegal spoofed calls to their original source. And just this week, I again demanded that industry deploy robust caller ID ‘authentication’ in their networks this year. In short, the FCC is working on multiple fronts to combat spoofing fraud.”

Mr. Pai reiterated after the meeting that the FCC will act if providers don’t deploy a robust caller ID authentication system this year. In response to a question about whether the FCC will press providers not to charge consumers for call-blocking solutions, Mr. Pai said he would not detail what FCC “intervention” would entail.

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly told reporters that he generally opposes “imposing unfunded mandates” and that the cost of solutions would be passed onto all consumers if providers don’t charge for them.

In his written statement for the meeting, Mr. O’Rielly said that although “some of the statutory language [of the RAY BAUM’S Act] is interesting, I will always follow the will of Congress.”

“In general, I appreciate providing the Commission with added authority to bring enforcement actions against foreign bad actors. So many of the most egregious illegal robocalling and spoofing campaigns originate overseas, including the despicable IRS impersonation scams. While the expanded jurisdiction provided by the Act won’t solve all the challenges involved in bringing foreign criminals to justice, such as obtaining traceback-related subpoenas and accessing the cooperation of countries with weaker legal institutions, the explicit provisions should at least help the Commission cut through red tape in friendly nations. I look forward to reviewing the record in this proceeding and vote to approve,” Mr. O’Rielly added.

Commissioner Brendan Carr said he is pleased that Congress expanded the scope of the Truth in Caller ID Act.

“With today’s Notice, we propose to implement these statutory amendments. Doing so will help us take additional actions to address unwanted calls,” he said. “So I look forward to the FCC moving to an order quickly and continuing our efforts to combat these calls.”

The CGB report on robocalls, which was prepared in consultation with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “Available data show that robocalls remain a substantial consumer problem. And challenges remain, especially in implementation of Caller ID authentication and expanded call blocking. Further, the Commission faces hurdles enforcing against robocallers, including the need for cooperation from foreign governments to stop illegal robocalls that originate overseas, greater provider participation in traceback efforts, and a one-year TCPA statute of limitations. Government and industry have taken strong action to stop the worst robocalls before they reach consumer phones, with stepped-up enforcement, call blocking, and Caller ID authentication. In short, the Commission stands committed to working with the FTC, industry, trade associations, and consumers to eliminate the scourge of illegal robocalls.”

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee praised the FCC for adopting the NPRM proposing rules to implement the RAY BAUM’S Act, which was adopted last year as part of omnibus appropriations legislation (TR Daily, March 23, 2018). “Far too many Americans are still being deceived by fraudsters using spoofing technology, but the action taken by the FCC today is the next important step in fighting these malicious calls and texts,” they said.

“AT&T supports the FCC’s efforts and rigorous approach to fighting illegal and unwanted calls,” said Joan Marsh, the carrier’s executive vice president-regulatory and state external affairs. “Today’s notice of proposed rulemaking targets caller ID spoofing by, among other proposals, covering more types of communications and expanding the Commission’s reach to go after malicious and illegal calls made within other countries to U.S. consumers. We remain committed to working with the Commission and our industry partners in the ongoing battle against these types of schemes that harm our customers, and we look forward to the implementation of these significant and necessary changes to the FCC’s rules.”- Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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