Sen. John Thune
After the Senate recently passed my TRACED Act, bipartisan legislation that targets people who are behind illegal and abusive robocalls, I joked that if a Packers fan and a Patriots fan can work together (I teamed up with Sen. Ed Markey from Massachusetts), there’s hope for the country. Tongue in cheek, yes, but there’s a bit of truth to it, too. There are plenty of areas where members of Congress disagree, but there’s not enough focus on the things we agree on, like ending illegal robocalls.
Saying the TRACED Act simply passed the Senate would be an understatement, though, since it was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 97 to 1, something that doesn’t happen every day in the Senate. In fact, the TRACED Act passed by a larger margin than any other bill that has been considered on the Senate floor for a roll call vote during this entire Congress. Why? Well, because it’s about as commonsense and straightforward as it comes.
The TRACED Act has three main pillars. First, it lays the groundwork for putting some teeth into the law that would help punish and deter mass robocallers. I believe a credible threat of criminal prosecution – putting people behind bars – is both necessary and appropriate for someone who is willing, for example, to scam an elderly South Dakotan by telling them their grandchild is stranded overseas and needs a large sum of money to receive help. It’s hard to believe someone would do something like that, but I’ve heard countless stories just like this one.
As a result, the bill would require people and entities who would be responsible for investigating and enforcing criminal violations, like experts from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the law enforcement community, the telecommunications industry, and others, to come up with the appropriate framework to define how to most effectively go after these bad guys. It would then be up to Congress to make the law, but given that the TRACED Act passed with near unanimous support, I’m confident we’d be able to move the ball down the field.
The second pillar of my bill would increase the financial penalty for offenders and expand the window in which fines could be levied. Under current law, there is little, if anything, that can be done to penalize scammers more than one year after an illegal call is made. The TRACED Act would expand the timeframe from one year to three years and increase the financial penalty in the second and third years from zero dollars to up to $10,000 per call.
Finally, my bill goes after spoofed calls – the kind of calls that come from a familiar number (sometimes even an identical known number) but is clearly a scammer who is targeting you or your family. The bill would require the FCC to adopt an industry-wide framework for call authentication to ensure the number that shows up on your phone is truly associated with the person making the call. It would also make it far easier for carriers – think Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc. – to block calls that aren’t properly authenticated. In other words, it would help create a system where these scam or spoofed calls never reach your phone in the first place.
Collectively, while not a cure-all, the improvements in the TRACED Act would go a long way toward thwarting illegal robocalls. The bill is supported by all 50 state attorneys general, all current commissioners at the FCC and FTC, consumer and industry groups around the country, including AARP, and nearly the entire U.S. Senate. Even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “The TRACED Act is just what we need to hang up on these non-stop robocalls, and the House should follow the Senate’s lead and pass it ASAP.” I don’t say it often, but I couldn’t agree more with Sen. Schumer.