A debate at a senate committee hearing Wednesday discussed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, including how the the Federal Communications Commission has exposed businesses to litigation risk through TCPA interpretations and how the law can create problems for businesses trying to reach consumers in the way they want to be contacted.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller testified at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that unwanted automated calls account for most of the consumer complaints his office receives. He also acknowledged that most of these calls originated overseas and did not come from the businesses or industries represented at the hearing.
"I’ll throw the FCC under the bus. They’re the only ones who can regulate the huge, massive amount of calls that originate outside of our jurisdiction," Zoeller said. "Without that enforcement ability, those calls account for well over half of the complaints we get.”
Zoeller focused his testimony on collection calls, which make up approximately half of the complaints his office receives.
"Of the nearly 700 debt collection complaints my office received last year, about 90% were because the caller was harassing the wrong person,” he said in the testimony. “Not to mention, the vast majority of robocallers are scam artists. Legitimizing some types of robocalls adds confusion and creates more opportunity for fraud."
The TCPA was passed in 1991 to protect people from automated telephone messaging equipment but a recent amendment details that robocalls to cell phones would be legal if the debt is owned or guaranteed by the federal government. Before this amendment, the TCPA declared all robocalls illegal.
Zoeller argued against this in his testimony, insisting that a nationwide ban on robocalls to cell phones should remain in place. Twenty-four other state attorneys general also called on the committee to keep the ban intact.
"By carving out this exception, Congress has legitimized robocalls and opened citizens up to a barrage of unwanted or misplaced calls,” Zoeller said. "Debt collection robocalls are aggressive, relentless and often inaccurate.”
Zoeller has tried for several months to pass the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone Calls Act of 2015,which would repeal the recent TCPA amendment.
Zoeller also urged the Senate Committee to hold Do Not Call violators entirely accountable for their actions. He suggested providing citizens with the legal tools to take action against those who do violate their telephone privacy rights.
Monica Desai, partner at Squire Patton Boggs, testified that the TCPA has not evolved along with modern technology and does not consider how consumers and businesses communicate in 2016. Since more consumers rely exclusively on cell phones, compliance-minded businesses are wary of calling their consumers because "every single call to a cell carries with it the potential risk of ruinous damages,” she said.
She had several recommendations for Congress including that they mandate a reassigned number database and create a safe harbor for businesses that accidentally call reassigned numbers, and clarify that the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system was never meant to include any and every kind of modern dialing technology.