WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, today convened a hearing titled, “Illegal Robocalls: Calling All to Stop the Scourge.”
During the hearing, Thune asked a panel of witnesses about his proposed bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, legislation he introduced with Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) to combat annoying, illegal, and abusive robocalls. The Commerce Committee unanimously approved this legislation last week.
Thune’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery):
“Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing addressing a topic that we can all pretty much agree on: illegal and abusive robocalls must end.
“No one is immune to these illegal and potentially dangerous calls.
“It’s no surprise unsolicited robocalls consistently rank among the top consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.
“One report estimated that robocallers rang Americans’ mobile phones over 26 billion times last year alone.
“Illegal and abusive robocalls are a clear problem, but it’s important to remember that automated calls are not inherently negative.
“Many important services are carried out via such calls when companies and call recipients have a pre-established relationship.
“For example, if you’re on your way to the airport and your flight is canceled, if there’s a fraud alert on your credit card, or if you’re being reminded of an upcoming medical appointment, those are calls that are important to consumers.
“Different rules of the road apply to these types of calls, and they should.
“Our focus today is on the unscrupulous use of robocalls – something that has earned bipartisan scorn.
“Almost a year ago, when I was chairman of the Commerce Committee, I subpoenaed the mass robocaller Adrian Abramovich to testify about his operation.
“He’s facing $120 million in FCC penalties for making nearly 100 million robocalls throughout the country.
“His testimony shed light on the reality that many robcallers view the risk of getting caught and paying civil fines as a cost of business.
“Illegal calling operations are often based abroad and can disappear quickly when authorities seek to hold them accountable.
“Since bringing up Mr. Abramovich, I introduced the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence or TRACED Act with Senator Markey, bipartisan legislation targeting the worst of the worst: scam artists and others who knowingly violate the law.
“A credible threat of criminal prosecution is necessary and appropriate for those who knowingly flout laws to prey upon the elderly and other vulnerable populations.
“The TRACED Act mandates that federal law enforcement, state attorneys general, and telecommunications experts work together to determine what systems and what potential modifications to our laws will create a credible threat of prosecution and prison for those who intentionally violate the law.
“I’ve also heard from federal enforcers that requiring a warning citation before the FCC can act against an illegal robocaller and the current one-year statute of limitations necessitating the initiation of a fine within a year from when an illegal call is made are hampering their ability to hold bad actors accountable.
“The TRACED Act will give the FCC three years to identify robocallers who intentionally violate the law and eliminates the need for a preliminary citation.
“New technologies have also made it easier for scammers to hide from law enforcement and seek to gain their victims’ trust by using a technique known as “spoofing” where they display fake caller ID information.
“The goal of scammers using spoofed robocalls is often to get money out of unsuspecting recipients, and some of their methods can be particularly malicious.
“The TRACED Act tackles the frustrating issue of “spoofing” by requiring the FCC to adopt an industry-developed framework for call authentication.
“And importantly, the bill makes it easier for carriers to lawfully block calls that aren’t properly authenticated.
“Ultimately, this will help stop such calls from reaching your phone.
“These improvements may not stop every illegal robocall, but they will go a long way towards making it safe to answer your phone again.
“That’s why I’m pleased that the Commerce Committee unanimously reported the TRACED Act out of Committee last week and that it is now moving to the full Senate for consideration.
“I’m also grateful for Senator Markey for partnering with me on this legislation, and I will work to get the TRACED Act to the president’s desk as soon as possible.
“I mentioned earlier that solving this issue is going to require a variety of stakeholders to get together.
“Today, we have the opportunity to hear from the Honorable Doug Peterson, who serves as the Attorney General for the State of Nebraska.
“State Attorneys General are actively enforcing do-not-call laws and educating consumers about scam robocalls.
“Industry has also been working diligently to develop new call authentication technology to provide consumers relief from illegal robocalls, so I’m glad to welcome Mr. Kevin Rupy and Ms. Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center who can speak to those efforts.
“Thank you all for being here today.
“I’ll turn it over to Senator Schatz for any opening remarks he may have.”