In recent years, the United States has grappled with an escalating robocall problem, posing significant challenges for both consumers and businesses. At the heart of this issue lies the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a well-intentioned but ultimately ambiguous piece of legislation. TCPA violations are often broken unintentionally but violators face very heft consequences, and now possibly even scarier for business owners.
What Senate Bill S.3324 Proposes for TCPA Violations
In the wake of October’s Senate hearing on “Protecting Americans From Robocalls,” Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced the tortuously named “Deter Obnoxious, Nefarious and Outrageous Telephone (“DO NOT”) Call Act.”
The bill authorizes prison sentences of up to one year for willful and knowing violations of the TCPA and up to three years for repeat offenders. The DO NOT Call Act would also double the fines for illegally spoofing (using a false or misleading caller ID number) from $10,000 to $20,000.
Previously introduced by the same group of Senators in 2021, the legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation but did not receive a full committee vote before the end of the previous session. Rather than die the lonely death it so richly deserved, the Senators instead reintroduced this heavy-handed and poorly drafted bill back into the legislative conversation.
In a statement announcing the legislation, Senator Cortez Masto noted that in 2022, Americans received roughly 78 billion robocalls and 225 billion robotexts and lost a total of $85 billion from scam calls and texts and stated that the legislation will “hold scammers accountable.” Senator Klobuchar echoed that statement, saying, “Our legislation will give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on scammers and deter criminals from abusing robocalls.”
Seriously Flawed Legislation
The "knowing and willful" language as currently used in the TCPA triggers the trebling of penalties for certain violations, and it sets a bar for that is significantly lower than that for most crimes, creating a dangerous gray area where legitimate businesses could face severe penalties for minor or unintentional infractions.
Meanwhile, the criminals who ply their trade through scam robocalls and texts often do so from overseas, far beyond the reach of US law enforcement. Rather than target US telecommunication service providers that knowingly allow such traffic through their networks, instead it only heightens the stakes for legitimate US companies. In the unlikely event this bill ever becomes a law, it will only exacerbate rather than alleviate the problem of scam robocalls and texts.
The ongoing struggle with illegal robocalls highlights a broader issue: the need for thoughtful, effective legislation that serves both consumers and businesses. While Senate Bill 3324 does not fall within that category, it does underscore the need for a legislative approach that genuinely addresses the problem of scam calls, instead of merely adding layers to an already flawed system.
It is imperative for Congress to devise a strategy that effectively combats unwanted calls, and balances the needs of consumers and businesses alike, thus paving the way towards a more secure and hassle-free communication environment.