Commentary: Congress considers bills to rein-in robocallers

One would update wording that autodialers take advantage of. The other would crack down on spoofers.

By The Washington Post Editorial Board

Forget a dystopian robot future. The present, in which it is impossible to sit down to dinner without a machine calling your smartphone, is troubling enough. The scourge of robocalls has worsened in recent years, but stirrings in Congress suggest spam-slammed Americans may finally find some relief.

Consumers frustrated with the constant flow of unwanted calls have technology to thank. Gone are the days when clunky hardware meant autodialing was a hassle, and when long-distance fees could cost a marketer more than they could hope to make. Now, spammers can target thousands of phones an hour with only a click, almost for free, no matter where they are. And spoofing software allows them to do it while concealing their identities. Any solution, then, will have to tackle two problems at once: run-of-the-mill spammers who do not spoof and the fraudsters who use fake numbers for their scams.

Thankfully, proposals in both chambers of Congress offer some hope. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, introduced a bill in the House last week to close the loophole on autodialers who today take advantage of outdated legal language. That should deter legitimate businesses from abuse. As for the spoofers, major carriers could deploy a technology as early as this year that will tell consumers whether an incoming call comes from a verified number. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had already urged carriers to adopt these authentication systems, but he stopped short of mandating it. Pallone’s bill would do just that, as would legislation co-written by Sens. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, and John Thune, R-South Dakota. And Pallone’s sensibly would require phone companies to provide blocking services against spoofers, free of charge.

The bills would also help with enforcement: The House proposal would grant the FCC the ability to fine rule-breakers at first offense, and the Senate counterpart would allow the agency to levy fines of $10,000 per call, up from $1,500. Both bills would extend the statute of limitations on violations.

The Federal Trade Commission could benefit as well from additional authority, not included in either bill, to go after telecommunications companies that are grossly negligent in stopping robocalls on their services. Resources to facilitate international cooperation, often necessary for catching a scammer, are also crucial.

Robocalls offer an easy opportunity for bipartisan consensus. After all, politicians have not been spared from the onslaught of unwanted ringing. Legislation that combines the most promising aspects of the House and Senate proposals, carving out appropriate exceptions for legitimate uses of autodialing, would be a win for every human against today’s most bothersome bots.

The above editorial appeared Sunday in The Washington Post.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Saturday, May 25

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - A worker cleans a jet bridge at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., before passengers board an Alaska Airlines flight, March 4, 2019. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines owns Horizon Air. Three passengers sued Alaska Airlines on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, saying they suffered emotional distress from an incident last month in which an off-duty pilot, was accused of trying to shut down the engines of a flight from Washington state to San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: FAA bill set to improve flight safety, experience

With FAA reauthorization, Congress proves it’s capable of legislating and not just throwing shade.

The author’s 19-year-old niece, Veronika, was among seven people killed by a gunman on May 23, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif.
Comment: I lost my niece to gun violence 10 years ago this week

Since then, Washington state voters and lawmakers have taken bold steps to discourage gun violence.

Comment: Reroute of Harvey Field runway not worth flood risk

Without a projected need for expansion, the work risks flooding impacts to wildlife and residents.

Forum: How we employ hope in our work toward what we hope for

When reaching goals takes time, do we use hope to sustain us or to redefine what we sought in the first place?

Forum: As goes Boeing, so goes state funding for schools

Boeing tried to update the 737 on the cheap. The state has done the same in funding schools.

Tufekci: Scarlett Johanson’s voice isn’t only thing AI is after

Humanity’s collective creative output is being repurposed and monetized as AI companies see fit.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

The vessel Tonga Chief, a 10-year-old Singaporean container ship, is moored at the Port of Everett Seaport in November, 2023, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)
Editorial: Leave port tax issue for campaign, not the ballot

Including “taxing district” on ballot issue to expand the Port of Everett’s boundaries is prejudicial.

Schwab: MAGA GOP threatens supply chain of gobs to smack

Even if you ration your gobs, the week’s Republican outrages have created a nationwide shortage.

Alternative is needed to 8-hour shutdown of I-5

I was in the catastrophic I-5 backup on May 16 trying to… Continue reading

Herald, please bring back Today in History, professional sports scores

First off, thank you for continuing to publish The Herald. I have… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.