back to article FCC waves big fines at political robocallers

The US Federal Communications Commission has cited two robocalling operations used for political calls and says the companies have 15 days to stop or they will get fined $4.8m and/or $16,000 per call. "Consumers have increasingly been sounding the alarm on robocalls, rightly complaining about unwanted, intrusive cell phone …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Better late than on time.

    Good, finally.

    However I've always found devices like these are a easy way to filter out the WRONG candidates. All of that won't matter soon though, those tickets to that "Luxury Boat Cruise" I won via a random call should arrive any day. I'm just lucky I guess.

  2. Franklin
    Thumb Down

    "What's that you say? You've been egregiously violating the law for years, and raking in millions? Well...stop it. Next month. Or you'll get SUCH a fine."

    I suppose the idea of...err, actually penalizing these guys for the lawbreaking they've already done is right out the window.

    1. 1052-STATE

      Agree with Franklin.

      They've been given 15 days to stop otherwise they'll get fined? What happens to the guy with two strikes who steals a Snickers bar - he gets imprisoned for life. He doesn't get a 15 day warning to not steal another Snickers bar.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @1052 state - what do you think the 1st and 2nd strikes are. If not 2 warnings not to steal snickers bars

        1. 1052-STATE

          The first two strikes can be for wholly unrelated items - and we know that certain sectors of society have no real defence when charges are laid upon them - hence incrementing the strike count.

          If this Snicker stealer were to simply incorporate (Snicker Bar Stealers LLC / LTD) he will never get jailed again. Why don't more 'physical crime' criminals just incorporate? :)

          These clowns doing the robocalling will just incorporate as another DBA (Andersen Consulting Scandal --> Accenture) and pop up somewhere else.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

   tried that, it didn't work. If the reincorporation is clearly done to evade detection then it can "pierce the corporate veil" in UK-speak and that in turns open the company directors up to personal liability.

            Robocalling has been illegal in the USA for about 20 years, _except_ for emergency services (evacuation warnings) and political/religious purposes, under the TCPA (even then there are restrictions on what can be called)

            There must have been some recent rejigging to allow going after political spammers. It's about damned time - but the screaming from politicos will be as nothing compared to what will happen when the FTC takes down some evangelical group for the same thing.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The best solution to getting rid of all of the spam calls, change it from civil to criminal. This way they can be fined and the owners/operators of them can face jail time too. Civil fines rest on the business and the owners can just open a new one tomorrow and make millions more. The fines are just a necessary evil. With criminal penalties, well, starting a new company while in jail is not that easy or convenient.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      The TCPA is a "Million paper cuts" law.

      Spammers face $15k per call from the FTC, but they also face $500 per call in small claims courts (spammer in this instance is the caller and the caller's hirer - both are separately liable). This automatically increases to $1500 per instance if it can be shown to be premeditated (given the practices are mostly illegal, thats a given).

      Unfortunately a number of US small claims judges have thrown out cases, resulting in them having to go up the food chain and then back down to the small claims courts (sometimes several times). The idea of an inbred hick judge who's the cousin of the respondant isn't far off the truth in a number of areas and it's very hard to get rid of them.

  4. Eddy Ito

    Force their hand

    A nice petition to Obama should do. Perhaps mandatory treble penalties might help and, sadly probably needed, include a 50% cut to the blood suckers lawyers to ensure they're in line.

  5. Ole Juul

    wrong script

    Just call it hacking and charge them under terrorism laws like they do with everybody else. Why are they pussyfooting around? I think the government is complicit in this case. My point is that this could be treated like they treat script kiddies, but they don't. Why?

  6. Dazed and Confused

    Now please get this applied to all robo calls

    Everywhere in the whole world

    That will do as a first small step

    After that you can get down to the serious business of banning all SPAM calls.

  7. Fihart

    A plague.

    I lived in the States twenty years ago and was surprised when the phone rang and it was someone trying to sell me something. Now it happens several times daily at my home in the UK.

    I find that the quantity of calls drops if I respond when told to press 5 (or whatever) "to speak to one of our agents". I press the key and walk away. Sometime later I hear the receiver putting out a siren to warn me the phone is off the hook. I assume that, in between, a harried fone-farm drone has picked up the call only to find there's no-one there.

    In fact, as much as a nuisance to the callers as they are to me.

    1. kain preacher

      Re: A plague.

      What makes me reallyt made is when they call you and put you on hold, then hang up.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stop the threats

    Just arrest them, fine them $16K per SPAM and throw them in prison for 5 years. That is the only way that SPAM will be reduced. Threats don't change anything.

    1. Dazed and Confused

      Re: Stop the threats

      > and throw them in prison for 5 years

      I take it that is 5 years per SPAM call, not to run concurrently.

    2. Charles 9

      Re: Stop the threats

      The trouble is that phone calls, especially of a political nature, run smack into the First Amendment. In terms of freedom of speech, political speech tends to be given the freest reign. At this point, there is a VERY fine line between legitimate campaign calling for tens of millions of Americans and spam, and it likely keeps moving. That's probably why the FCC is taking what may be seen as an excessively careful approach, lest they fire back with claims they've been denied their rights under the Constitution.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stop the threats

        One might think that there's a difference between personally expressing a political opinion / soliciting support for a candidate and using a robo-dialer to annoy the hell out of people.

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Stop the threats

        I think Compuserve v Cyberpromotions covers that. You have a right to say what you want. You don't have a right to use other people's equipment to force them to listen to it.

      3. kain preacher

        Re: Stop the threats

        I always that was BS. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom to be heard. I'm paying for the phone line.

        if the same people kept on knocking on your door and you kept telling them to go away, you can hit them with trespassing . Why does a phone call make it different ? It's not like they are doing it on some thing publicly owned.

      4. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Stop the threats

        "The trouble is that phone calls, especially of a political nature, run smack into the First Amendment. In terms of freedom of speech, political speech tends to be given the freest reign."

        So do "loudspeaker truck" laws, but those got passed without much trouble after politicos started heavily abusing the medium in the 1930s.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Why give them 15 days?

    Just tell them to stop NOW!

    1. Tom 35

      Re: Why give them 15 days?

      They need the two weeks to register the new company name, notify their costumers of the new company, and strip all the assets of the old one.

  10. Stuart Gepp

    Why stop at the beginning

    These companies don't spontaneously leap into existance and start dialling on behalf of some politician. Assuming that there is some collaboration between the politician and the company breaking the law doesn't it become a conspiracy to break the law. The penalty should extend to all the parties involved.

  11. JaitcH

    Given all the money swilling around politicians ...

    no fines are likely to affect their calling activities.

    Then there are the incessant SMS and e-mails. Cutting the 'political' season down, would help, only people who have suffered through the US vote solicitation periods realise how extreme things can get.

    So nice living in a single party country, although they do deploy loudspeaker equipped trucks to extol the virtues of the government. The military in VietNam really do have some impressive sound systems which, when strategically placed, can cover even medium sized cities.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It's currently offering $50,000 in prizes to people who can come up with a way to safely block the practice..."

    Shoot the feckers. Now can I please have my reward.

    1. Oninoshiko

      Don't be anonymous. I can't vote for you if you're anonymous.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    $6 billion

    And the best they could come up with was:

    1. Average performer, and

    2. A cultist nut job

    I'd ask for my money back.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: $6 billion

      From your description, I find it difficult to tell which is which.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    15 days?

    It only takes 15 days before an election to get their point across. Then it's all over until next time.

  15. Colin Miller

    Telling if a number is a cell?

    In the US, how do you tell if a phone number is a cell or landline, given that US cell phones just standard geographic numbers, not a special prefix (078 in the UK).

    This is why US cells pay to receive phone calls.

    1. kain preacher

      Re: Telling if a number is a cell?

      The prefix tells you , well unless the ported the line to home phone.

    2. kain preacher

      Re: Telling if a number is a cell?

      If the number has not been ported, the prefix will tell you that the number is a cell, the phone company that owns it and the geographical area were the number is housed. Even thought my number is ported it still comes up a cell number belonging to att and it's a San jose number.

    3. Peter Simpson 1
      Thumb Up

      Re: Telling if a number is a cell?

      You can't tell from the number alone, but the phone company knows, and those autodiallers are supposed to pay for access to that data, so they don't call cells or business numbers.

      If you're running a robocall operation, you want to make as much money as possible before you're shut down, so you don't bother checking said database...or, needless to say, the Do-Not-Call list.

    4. Davidoff

      Re: This is why US cells pay to receive phone calls.

      No, it isn't. The sole reason why Americans pay for being called is because they are easy to pull a fast one from. Which, considering their unshattered belief in a 'free market' with as little regulation as possible, is something they are probably well familiar with from many other areas (i.e. health insurance).

      There is simply no technical reason why the person being called has to pay, as demonstrated by most other countries.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: This is why US cells pay to receive phone calls.

        I think one reason it keeps going is that many callers have either gone flat (mine is flat) or have such generous allowances that it really doesn't matter anymore. It only really becomes an issue if you're using the most basic prepaid services, and those people tend to be naturally stingy about their cell time (they also know how to ignore a call).

  16. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "as little regulation as possible"

    Uh yeah right. In most areas of the USA, telcos are STILL legislated local monopolies.

    The natural end point of a "free market" is unfettered monopoly. The US government has stepped in on multiple occasions in the last 200 years to curb this kind of thing.

    Corporations owning politicians isn't a new phenomenon, it was widespread before the last big shakeup in the 19th century.

  17. Alan Brown Silver badge

    USA injunctions

    Some people might well snicker at injunctions, but the point of obtaining them is that should the pricks reincorporate, they can still be held up on criminal charges (contempt of court) which stateside carry fairly large penalties.

  18. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Regarding "3 strikes", what 1052-state says is true -- these laws are pretty broken, and a few people have gotten life for something stupid like jaywalking, jaywalking again, and lifting a candy bar. It also leads to the attitude that if you have 2 strikes and someone is going to so much as wirte you a ticket, that you have "nothing to lose" (and this is essentially true...) so they'll go on shootouts and high speed chases on the chance that they'll get away since they are already guaranteed life in prison anyway.

    Back on topic, there was indeed a law recently passed regarding political robocalls. Most politicians seemed to already know that calling cell phones is greasy as hell, but it was not actually illegal until this point. This law was SUPPOSED to make it illegal to call anyone on the do not call list, but the politicians (those rat bastards) pulled that out and watered it down to cell phones only.

    1. Charles 9

      Most of the three strikes laws qualify the classes of crime in which they apply. Many have differing levels of punishment. For example, three misdemeanors equals a felony charge. The mandatory "20 to life" sentences are usually restricted to three violent felonies, though some jurisdictions are looser and just use three felonies.

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