Sen. John Thune (R-SD), member of the Senate Commerce Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), also a member of the Commerce Committee and author of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), recently reintroduced the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (“TRACED”) Act, S. 151. The TRACED Act is identical to the version as originally introduced in November 2018 (and previously discussed here). The bill seeks to prevent illegal robocall scams and other intentional violations of the TCPA.Read More
The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) recently issued a public notice seeking comment on issues related to interpretation and implementation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (the “TCPA”). The notice followed the recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in ACA International v. FCC, in which the Circuit Court affirmed and vacated in part a rule previously issued by the FCC. Our prior coverage of ACA International can be found here.
First, the FCC seeks comment on the TCPA definition of “automatic telephone dialing system.” The TCPA defines an automatic telephone dialing system as “equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” The FCC had previously interpreted the term “capacity” to include a device “even if, for example, it requires the addition of software to actually perform the functions described in the definition.” The ACA International Court set that definition aside—finding that the agency’s “capacious understanding of a device’s ‘capacity’ lies considerably beyond the agency’s zone of delegated authority” and that it would have “the apparent effect of embracing any and all smartphones.” The FCC seeks comment on how to interpret “capacity” in light of the guidance provided in ACA International, specifically seeking comment on how to more narrowly interpret the word “capacity” to better comport with congressional findings and the intended reach of the statute.
The FCC further seeks comment on the functions a device must be able to perform to qualify as an automatic telephone dialing system. The FCC seeks comment on whether equipment can be considered an automatic telephone dialing system if the equipment cannot itself dial random or sequential numbers. And the FCC seeks comment on whether the prohibition on making certain calls using an automatic telephone dialing system should apply to equipment that has the ability to use such technology but does not actually use it in making the call.
Second, the FCC seeks comment on how to treat calls to reassigned wireless numbers under the TCPA where the statute carves out calls “made with the prior express consent of the called party” from its prohibitions. The FCC seeks comment specifically on the definition of “called party:” does it refer to the person the caller expected to reach (or reasonably expected to reach) or the person that the caller actually reached, i.e., the wireless number’s present-day subscriber? Further, does it include the “customary user” (e.g., the close relative on a subscriber’s family calling plan)?
Third, the FCC seeks comment on how a called party may revoke prior express consent to receive robocalls. The ACA International Court found that (1) “a party may revoke her consent through any reasonable means clearly expressing a desire to receive no further messages from the caller,” and (2) such a standard means “callers . . . have no need to train every retail employee on the finer points of revocation” and have “every incentive to avoid TCPA liability by making available clearly-defined and easy-to-use opt-out methods.” The FCC now seeks input on what, if any, opt-out methods exist that would be sufficiently clearly defined and easy to use such that “any effort to sidestep the available methods in favor of idiosyncratic or imaginative revocation requests might well be seen as unreasonable” for unwanted calls (i.e., saying “stop calling” in response to a live caller, offering opt-out through a website, or responding with “stop” to unwanted texts; and whether callers must offer all or some combination of such methods to qualify).
Fourth, the FCC seeks renewed comment on two pending petitions for reconsideration of the FCC’s Broadnet Declaratory Ruling, in which the FCC determined that the TCPA does not apply to calls made by or on behalf of the federal government in the conduct of official government business, except when a call made by a contractor does not comply with the government’s instructions. The petitions seek reconsideration of the FCC’s interpretation of “persons” under the TCPA, and clarification of whether federal government contractors, regardless of their status as common-law agents, are “persons” under the TCPA. The FCC now seeks comment on whether contractors acting on behalf of federal, state, and local governments are “persons” for purposes of the TCPA.
Fifth, the FCC seeks renewed comment on the pending petition for reconsideration of its 2016 Federal Debt Collection Rules, which seeks reconsideration of several aspects of the rules, including the applicability of the TCPA limits on calls to reassigned wireless numbers. Referring to the holding in ACA International, the FCC seeks renewed comment on “this and other issues” raised by the petition.
Comments are due by June 13, 2018 and reply comments are due by June 28, 2018.
This public notice, along with recent congressional hearings considering legislation applicable to telephone calls (previously discussed here), demonstrates that in the wake of ACA International, the laws and regulations applicable to outbound calling will continue to evolve.
The Senate Commerce Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee held back-to-back hearings late last month on abusive robocalls and caller ID spoofing and how to combat them. Committee members and witnesses both highlighted the fact that robocalls and ID spoofing have “exploded in recent years” and several noted that “over 3 billion calls were placed [in March] alone” and “about a quarter of these calls are scam calls.” Further, because the technology used to place robocalls and to spoof are evolving technically, the number of calls continues to grow. There was broad agreement on both committees that consumer education, aggressive Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) and Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) enforcement actions, and the use of new ID verification and robocall-blocking technologies are important tools in combating these calls. However, Republicans and Democrats and business and consumer witnesses are generally split on the question of whether legitimate businesses are part of the problem and whether the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) needs to be reformed or conversely expanded through new legislation and regulations. This focus on abusive/illegal robocalls and split on the TCPA presents both risks and potential opportunities for businesses and, consequently, requires close watch.
On June 13, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on “Lawsuit Abuse and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act”. The House Energy & Commerce Committee has primary jurisdiction over the TCPA. But the Judiciary Committee oversees all matters related to the administration of justice in federal courts and has been active on a number of litigation reform matters, including most recently class action reform legislation. The Subcommittee held the hearing in response to the fact that between 2010 and 2016, TCPA case filings increased by 1,272%, and today TCPA lawsuits are the largest category of class actions filed in federal court. Although some of the Subcommittee’s Democratic members, including Ranking Democrat Steve Cohen (D-TN), questioned the Committee’s jurisdictional interest in the TCPA, the hearing focused on TCPA reform––specifically with an eye toward reducing lawsuit abuse, and the Republicans said they would work with Energy & Commerce on any legislative proposals.
It is has been a busy time in the field of unmanned aircraft systems (a.k.a., drones). The Federal Aviation Administration recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow the widespread use of small unmanned aircraft for a variety of low-altitude, line-of-site commercial operations–something currently prohibited by the agency. However, the FAA does not typically deal with privacy issues. So, while the FAA will regulate the use of these devices, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum calling for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to begin a multi-stakeholder process to outline industry guidelines related to privacy, transparency, and accountability in the use of unmanned aircraft. (See our recent client alert on the FAA small UAS NPRM and the Presidential Memorandum by clicking here.) Although the NTIA’s typical focus is on telecommunications issues, it has convened a multi-stakeholder processes to address privacy issues involving such things as mobile app disclosures and facial recognition technologies. Read More
The FCC’s recent net neutrality order, classifying broadband Internet access as a Title II common carrier offering, along with the FCC’s decision to preempt North Carolina and Tennessee state laws that placed limits on municipal broadband networks will be examined in a special live webcast on Broadband US TV on Friday, March 13th from 1pm-2:30pm (Eastern).
The webcast, entitled “FCC Takes Charge – Net Neutrality and Muni Broadband: New Title II Rules for Broadband Access and Preempting State Limits on Municipal Networks” will present details about the rulings, predictions on implementation and court challenges, and what these rulings are likely to portend for broadband in America over the next year and beyond.
In the wake of recent high-profile data breaches suffered by major companies that exposed over 100 million customer records to identity theft, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced plans to conduct a sweeping review of the data security and privacy issues affecting American consumers and businesses. The Committee will divide the review into two phases by first surveying current security measures used to protect personal information online before turning to bolstering privacy protections for Internet users. Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) noted that the recent rise in cyber attacks seeking access to personal data necessitates a reassessment of the security standards used by companies that collect customer information. Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) echoed Sen. Upton’s concerns and stated that the review aims to produce policies which will strike a balance between protecting consumer information and maintaining innovation.
The Committee’s review will likely serve as a launching point to evaluate existing cybersecurity proposals and develop new data protection legislation. In April, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act” to establish federal consumer privacy protections that would apply across industry sectors and level stiff civil penalties against companies that mishandle or lose customer information. To protect the privacy of young social media users, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Ed Markey (D-MA) proposed the “Do Not Track Kids Act,” which would establish a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Teens,” require companies to erase personal information upon request, and prohibit the storage of user geolocation data. The storage of geolocation data garnered recent media attention following reports that Apple’s iPod and iPad operating systems tracked user movements through a software “bug” which the company later removed. States such as California have also attempted to force social media providers to afford customers more control over their online privacy settings, facing staunch opposition from many major Internet companies.
On April 12, 2011, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011” to establish the first federal statutory baseline of consumer privacy protection that would apply across industry sectors. The bill would govern how customer information is used, stored, and distributed online. We will provide more analysis soon, but for now, here are the highlights:
Information covered. The bill applies to broad categories of information, including names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, other unique identifiers, and biometric data when any of those categories are combined with a date of birth, place of birth, birth certificate number, location data, unique identifier information (that does not, alone, identify an individual), information about an individual’s use of voice services, or any other information that could be used to identify the individual.
Right to security and accountability. Information-collecting entities would be required to implement security measures to protect user information and would be prohibited from collecting more individual information than is necessary “to enforce a transaction or deliver a service requested by that individual,” subject to certain exceptions.
Privacy by design. Entities would be required to implement privacy by design concepts, which would require entities to incorporate privacy protection into each stage of product or service development in a manner that is much more comprehensive than previously required anywhere in the United States.
By Oded Green
On April 6, 2011, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing regarding a proposed update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in light of cloud computing and other technological developments that have occurred since the statute was enacted more than two decades ago. The ECPA is comprised of three laws — the Wiretap Act, the Stored Communications Act, and the Pen Register Act — which govern when certain parties, including law enforcement and other governmental authorities, may access communications and related data and to whom they may disclose those communications and data.
According to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Patrick Leahy, with the explosion of cloud computing, social networking sites and other new technologies, determining how to bring ECPA into the digital age is one of Congress’ greatest challenges. He added that ECPA is “hampered by conflicting standards that cause confusion for law enforcement, businesses and consumers.” For example, the content of a single e-mail could be subject to as many as four different levels of privacy protections under ECPA, depending on where it is stored, and when it is sent.
In a setback to one of the FCC’s key policy proposals, the House of Representative today voted in favor of a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act aimed at invalidating the Commission’s Net Neutrality Order adopted late last year. The vote follows months of heated industry and Congressional debate, including sharply partisan debate about the Resolution’s merits, court challenges brought by wireless carriers, and procedural delays in bringing the Resolution to the House floor. While the Resolution seeks to overturn the FCC’s new anti-blocking, network management transparency, and traffic discrimination rules, it faces an uphill battle to become law. The Resolution would need to get passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate and get signed by the President. The White House recently said it plans to veto any measure overturning the FCC’s Net Neutrality Order.