Our Cell Phones Are Still Off-Limits to Robocalls

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a follow-up on a previous post.  The Supreme Court handed down a decision today that will probably be lost in the coverage of its other decision released today, the one about “faithless” Presidential electors. Nevertheless, the decision in that other case, Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, inc., saves us all some aggravation.

Current federal law prohibits robocalls to cell phones, except calls made exclusively to collect a federal debt. The association representing political consultants sued, arguing that the prohibition violated the First Amendment right of its members. In its ruling, the Supreme Court agreed that the law violated the First Amendment, but the political consultants did not get what they wanted. The Court’s ultimate decision was unanimous, but the Justices were remarkably split all over the place about the reasons for the outcome. There were four separate opinions filed.

In the end, the Court ruled that the law “favored debt-collection speech over plaintiffs’ political speech.” Its solution: “We cure that constitutional violation by invalidating the 2015 government-debt exception and severing it from the remainder of the statute.” Thus, our cell phones have been saved from a flood of robocalls asking for our vote and our money. (We may still get them, but they will be illegal calls.)

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17 responses to “Our Cell Phones Are Still Off-Limits to Robocalls

  1. Robocalls are the scourge of the earth. what kind of person would do robocalls? Not a good person… but scum….

    • Well, they couldn’t do it if Verizon, for example, wouldn’t let them. But, that’s business. Verizon makes money.
      Ah, but that’s not the end of the story. Verizon, again for example, allows the calls to the point they become a nuisance.
      THEN, they sell you the service to block them. Again, Verizon makes money.

      Oh great… just heard bubonic plague reported in Asia.

      Think of selling opioids and a drug that helps with opioid induced constipation, and then a drug that helps kick the habit.

    • Agreed, robocallers are scum. Even if this ruling cuts robocalls to my cell phone in half, it will represent a meaningful step forward.

    • I’m on the Federal Communication Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee. We have been dealing with robocalls. When Trump was elected, the folks I call “real” consumer representatives appointed declined and the industry folks, along with groups like ALEC increased so they now have the majority of votes.
      It was very important to the telecoms that we not ask for free robocall protection. They were adamant that their business opportunities not be limited in any way. Lots of politics involved, but I view our statement as having no real consumer value. The companies even tried to get it to include specific kudos for their proprietary solution. All are touting what they provide for free but the truth is that you only get the best protection if you pay. Each can design their own system – they even refused to accept common definitions of associated words or any kind of common requirement. Today, the almighty dollar is more important than anything else.

  2. so , part of the problem is in that little thing called a TOS. And it has to do with organizations that you are a member of, “on their list”, folks you have contributed to or perhaps a business you have bought products or services from – they can then call you.

    So…for instance, I give blood to Red Cross… imagine that I donate to them and what do I get in return? Yup… phone calls, text messages and emails…

    Also – apparently pollsters are exempt… right?

  3. The Red Cross can call you because that is not a robocall. The federal law prohibits call made “using a random or sequential number generator.” The Red Cross has your number (you gave it when you registered to donate blood); therefore it is not using randomly or sequentially generated numbers.

    • Yep but it borders on spam… they keep going on and on….they even call right AFTER I give and cannot give any more right away!

      BTW – they’re now offering a “free” antibody test for COVID19 when you give. I suspect they’re testing for both the virus and antibodies.

  4. From a comparison of spam blockers:

    “For some, dark times call for dark measures. The $4 per month RoboKiller, which ranked second in my speed test, takes over and fingerprints your voice mails but adds a clever twist — “answer bots.” They’re voice-mail messages that try to keep robots and human telemarketers on the line listening to nonsense.

    Answer-bot options range from President Trump impersonators and extended coughing sessions to someone doing vocal exercises. Even better, RoboKiller will send you an often-hilarious recording of the interaction. (It only uses these recordings when it’s sure it’s a spam call.)”

  5. Lenny will handle the robocalls for you. Lenny is a no-charge robo-answerer. Add the following number to your contact list. When a spammer calls, you transfer, conference, or forward the call to 1-347-514-7296 (call it yourself to test it)

    Example: https://youtu.be/2LTyFPkrk3Y

  6. From djr’s link: “Another trick, known as “call spoofing,” allows frauds to input fake caller IDs to make it seem like they’re calling from within the country. Some telemarketers even go so far as to call from the recipient’s home area code, leading the person on the receiving end to think it’s someone they know.”

    Every robocall I get is from a spoofed number, most all are local. They’ve died off recently and instead, I get texts from non-working numbers. No clue how to stop them.

  7. I’m using Google Fi, which does a good job filtering spam calls. When a number not on my contact list does get through, Google Assistant screens the call. Assistant asks what the call is about, and transcribes the call in real time. At that point, I can either take the call, reject it or send it to voice mail.

  8. Much of the impetus for robocalls came when Obama’s FCC began the path to eliminating access charges on terminating traffic. This plan, which was continued by Trump’s FCC, makes robocalls virtually free to make. Free sells well, needless to say.

    The ability to change the Caller ID information (Automatic Number Identification or ANI) in the signaling message allows for call spoofing that increases the number of robocalls made and answered. The new call authentication framework, STIR/SHAKEN, will make it easier to identify and block robocalls.

  9. re: ” eliminating access charges on terminating traffic.”

    what does that mean?

    • Since the mid-80s, long distance carriers had to pay local telephone companies a charge for originating and terminating calls. Over time, these charges went down but still existed. In 2011, the FCC started a plan to phase-out these charges for terminating calls. Today, the plan is fully effective. If a $0.005 per minute terminating charge applied, a robocaller would have to pay $5000 plus the costs of the long distance carrier’s transport to make 1 million robocalls. Would you robodial 1 million calls if you had to pay at least $5000?

      With Internet transport largely free and terminating access gone, it costs a robocaller essentially nothing to make the million calls. So now, you make 5 million robocalls.

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