U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), authors of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act and members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, recently sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressing support for the agency’s ongoing efforts to address the threat of illegal robocalls and encouraging the agency to use its authority under the TRACED Act to increase transparency around ongoing efforts to trace harmful calls.
“The TRACED Act empowers the FCC, with the assistance of the ITG, to take badly needed steps to protect the public from robocalls,”wrote the senators. “We call on you to continue to use this authority and to work in collaboration with the ITG to help eliminate the threat of fraudulent robocalls and increase transparency into systems that contribute to this problem.”
On January 17, 2019, Thune and Markey introduced the TRACED Act, legislation to combat the rise of illegal robocalls. It was enacted in December 2019 and, among other things, required the FCC to designate an entity to conduct privately led efforts to trace back the origin of suspected illegal robocalls, which it did in July 2020 by selecting USTelecom-The Broadband Association’s Industry Traceback Group (ITG) as the official consortium. In August 2021, the FCC re-designated the ITG as the official consortium. The ITG uses information from voice service providers to trace and identify the source of illegal robocalls, and it works in collaboration with government enforcement to stop the perpetrators.
In their letter, the senators encouraged the FCC to seek information about the number of independent calling campaigns the ITG has identified and the number of carriers involved in multiple tracebacks. In December 2021, the senators introduced the Robocall Trace Back Enhancement Act, new legislation to help bolster privately led efforts to trace back the origins of these illegal robocalls. This week, during a Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing focused on consumer protection, Thune discussed the Robocall Trace Back Enhancement Act with a panel of government officials and industry experts.
Full letter below:
The Honorable Jessica Rosenworcel
Federal Communications Commission
45 L Street, NE
Washington, D.C. 20554
Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel:
We write regarding the ongoing scourge of illegal robocalls. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plays a critical role in mitigating this serious threat to consumers, and we commend you for the steps you have taken to address this complex problem. In order to provide experts, enforcing entities, Congress, and consumers with a clear picture of the current robocall threat landscape, we respectfully encourage you to use your authority under the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act to increase transparency around ongoing efforts to trace illegal robocalls.
Although Congress, the FCC, private companies, and consumer advocates have taken important steps to address the plague of robocalls in recent years, Americans continue to receive illegal robocalls. In many cases, these calls inflict serious harm on consumers and can lead to significant financial damage to members of vulnerable communities, particularly more elderly individuals. In 2021, Americans received 50.5 billion robocalls. Roughly 60 million people report that they have fallen victim to a phone scam in the last year, and scammers stole almost $30 billion from these consumers in that time frame. Illegal robocalls are dangerous and must be stopped.
The TRACED Act gives the FCC critical robocall deterrent and enforcement powers. We commend the FCC’s recent efforts to protect consumers, including requiring implementation of the caller ID authentication technology STIR/SHAKEN; creating the Robocall Mitigation Database, which logs phone companies’ robocall mitigation efforts; and pursuing enforcement actions against voice providers that violate the law. These actions have benefited consumers and lay important groundwork for future actions that will further reduce the volume of robocalls that reach consumers’ phones.
In addition to granting the FCC the authority to promulgate rules that protect Americans from unwanted calls, the TRACED Act also created a private consortium to trace the origins of illegal robocalls and identify who initiates them. This private consortium, the Industry Traceback Group (ITG), in partnership with the FCC, plays an important role in cracking down on illegal calls that harm consumers. The ITG uses information from voice service providers to trace and identify the source of illegal robocalls, and works in collaboration with government enforcement agencies to stop the perpetrators.
Importantly, the TRACED Act requires the ITG to share specific information with the FCC, and the Act allows the FCC to request additional data from the ITG about the consortium’s findings. The ITG’s recent response to the FCC’s Request for Information on the Status of Private-Led Traceback Efforts of Suspected Unlawful Robocalls demonstrates the ITG’s ability to collect useful information in the fight against illegal robocalls. For example, the report includes data on the types and volume of active robocall campaigns in 2021, a percentage breakdown of providers responsible for non-cooperation with traceback efforts, and information on the ITG’s cooperation with government enforcement efforts. To aid enforcing entities, Congress, experts, and consumers in our collective fight to stop harmful robocalls, we encourage the FCC to obtain additional information from the ITG, including responses to the following questions and requests:
- Among all the tracebacks requested in 2021, how many independent calling campaigns were identified?
- How many carriers were included in more than 10 tracebacks as an originating provider?
- How many carriers were included in more than 20 tracebacks as an originating provider?
- Please graph the data in the same manner the ITG graphed data regarding the providers that did not respond to traceback requests in ITG’s response to the FCC’s Request for Information on the Status of Private-Led Traceback Efforts of Suspected Unlawful Robocalls.
The TRACED Act empowers the FCC, with the assistance of the ITG, to take much needed steps to protect the public from robocalls. We call on you to continue to use this authority and to work in collaboration with the ITG to help eliminate the threat of illegal robocalls and increase transparency into systems that contribute to this problem. Thank you for your attention to this matter.