U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and current chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), also a member of the Commerce Committee and author of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, issued the following statements after the Senate approved a modified version of their bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act (S. 151) by a simple voice vote. The Senate first passed S. 151 by a vote of 97 to 1 on May 23, 2019, and the House of Representatives passed a modified version of the bill by a vote of 417 to 3 on December 4, 2019. It now heads to the president, who is expected to sign it into law.
Amidst ever-increasing numbers of robocall scams, the TRACED Act, which the Washington Post editorial board recently said “is what good, old-fashioned legislating looks like,” gives regulators more time to find scammers and levy fines for those who are caught, promotes call authentication and blocking adoption, and brings relevant federal agencies and state attorneys general together to address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers who intentionally flout laws.
“I have yet to meet someone who says they enjoy receiving those unwanted and illegal robocalls that plague our phones, whether we’re at home, at work, or in the car, which is why the TRACED Act takes several important steps in the fight to curb this scourge,” said Thune. “This bill represents a unique legislative effort that is not only bipartisan at its core, but it’s nearly unanimously supported in Congress. Most importantly, this is a significant win for consumers in every corner of the country, and it finally and officially puts illegal robocallers on notice. While no process is perfect, I’m glad we were able to work together with Republicans and Democrats, senators and members of the House to reach this important compromise, which, once signed into law, will begin to make an important down payment on the fight against illegal robocalls.”
“The U.S. Senate today sent Americans a holiday gift on everyone’s list: stopping the plague of robocalls,” said Markey. “The annoying and harassing robocalls we receive every day are neither a Democrat nor Republican menace; they are a universal menace. The TRACED Act cracks down on scammers by requiring phone carriers to authenticate whether calls are legitimate, and then blocking unverified robocalls at no charge to consumers. I thank Senator Thune for his unwavering partnership on this important consumer protection issue. I hope the President quickly signs this bill into law so that families can enjoy a new year of family calls instead of robocalls.”
In November 2019, House and Senate negotiators, including Thune and Markey and U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), and Bob Latta (R-Ohio), announced an agreement on this bipartisan, bicameral compromise.
Summary of the TRACED Act:
- Broadens the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on people who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions.
- Extends the window for the FCC to catch and take civil enforcement action against intentional violations to four years after a robocall is placed. Under current law, the FCC has only one year to do so, and the FCC has told the committee that “even a one-year longer statute of limitations for enforcement” would improve enforcement against violators.
- Brings together the Department of Justice, FCC, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other relevant federal agencies, as well as state attorneys general and other non-federal entities to identify and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution at the federal and state level of robocall scams.
- Requires voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones.
- Directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers.
- Directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking process to protect consumers from “one-ring” scams.
- Requires the FCC to establish a working group to issue best practices to prevent hospitals from receiving illegal robocalls.
Thune and Markey introduced the TRACED Act on January 17, 2019, and its cosponsor list quickly grew to more than three-quarters of the Senate. The bill is supported by attorneys general in all 50 states, by all current commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, and by industry and consumer groups, including AARP. It was also the subject of a Thune-led hearing entitled, “Illegal Robocalls: Calling All to Stop the Scourge.”In 2018, when Thune served as chairman of the Commerce Committee, the committee heard testimony under subpoena from Adrian Abramovich, the president of a now defunct company called Marketing Strategy Leaders. Abramovich, who has since been assessed a $120 million fine by the FCC for making nearly 100 million robocalls between 2015 and 2016, described a telemarketing operation as rather easy to put together and nimble, thus making enforcement difficult. His identification by the FCC and assessment of civil penalties raised questions for the committee about the lack of criminal prosecution for offenders caught intentionally and repeatedly violating telemarketing laws.