Sen. John Thune
Believe it or not, there’s a bill in Washington that’s sponsored by a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat; cosponsored by more than half of the Senate; supported by every single state attorney general in the nation, including South Dakota’s; and embraced by all commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in addition to major industry associations and leading consumer groups. My Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act checks all of those boxes, and I’m glad to see momentum is continuing to build for this truly bipartisan, pro-consumer effort.
I first introduced the TRACED Act late last year on the heels of my effort to find a solution to end those annoying, illegal, and abusive robocalls that we’re all sick of receiving. You’ve probably heard similar stories or experienced it firsthand, but the calls were getting so bad that some people told me they’d given up answering their phone altogether unless incoming calls were from a number that was already in their phone. Living in fear, anxiety, or annoyance every time the phone rings shouldn’t be the new normal.
When I served as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FTC and FCC, I wanted to hear directly from someone who’s behind one of these calling schemes, so I invited notorious mass robocaller Adrian Abramovich to testify before my committee. While he declined my invitation (it was pretty obvious why he didn’t want to voluntarily attend), I issued a subpoena and forced him to appear. Such subpoenas are rare. In my four years serving as chairman, I issued only four of them, which shows just how serious of an issue this was to me.
I learned two important lessons from Mr. Abramovich: First, there are few issues, if any, that spark bipartisan fervor quite like the prospect of banning illegal robocalls; and second, current law and existing financial penalties are insufficient to tackle this problem in a real way. People like Mr. Abramovich simply calculated fines and penalties into the cost of doing business. That’s when the TRACED Act was born.
While I’ll admit that my TRACED Act wouldn’t immediately stop every single illegal robocall, I can say that passing it would be one of the most significant steps toward thwarting these nuisance calls since the National Do Not Call registry was created more than 15 years ago. My bill would significantly increase the financial penalty for making these illegal calls, give carriers more tools and flexibility to prevent these calls from reaching your phone in the first place, and, most importantly, work toward creating a credible threat of criminal prosecution (serving behind bars) for the bad guys who are perpetrating these crimes.
I now serve as chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, which is tasked with tackling this issue, and I recently held a hearing to discuss the TRACED Act and the broader issue of illegal robocalls. I hosted a panel of law enforcement professionals, telecommunications experts, and consumer advocates who all agree that now is the time to take action, and the TRACED Act would provide the teeth that law enforcement and regulators need to better address this problem.
The TRACED Act has a lot of support in Washington and around the country. It was unanimously approved earlier this year by the Commerce Committee, and it’s now heading to the full Senate for consideration, where I’m hopeful it will also receive wide bipartisan support. Getting this bill to the president’s desk would put us in a stronger, more effective position to manage this threat and protect the vulnerable populations these bad actors target. That’s my goal, and I’m working to make it happen.