Effort to stop harassment from repetitive or deliberately malicious calls
Jul 13 2011
Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced legislation to protect American families from the harassment of repetitive, misleading or malicious political robocalls.
The use of the robocall—a prerecorded political message that can be sent to the telephones of tens of thousands of voters at minimal cost through computer automation—has been abused in recent years.
Last November, two dozen Los Angeles residents complained of receiving Spanish language robocalls from an unidentifiable source instructing them to vote on Wednesday, November 3 – the day after Election Day.
“In recent election campaigns, troubling stories about people being inundated with robocalls at all times of day or the use of robocalls to mislead and confuse potential voters have been reported with increasing frequency,” said Senator Feinstein. “There is no good reason why Americans should be awakened at 4:30 in the morning by a robocall. Nor is it acceptable for campaign vendors to deliberately mislead voters with inaccurate information about an election.”
Commercial calls are already limited by the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” list, which has registered millions of individuals. But political calls are specifically exempt from this list.
Recent examples of robocall abuse include:
- On Election Day in 2010, more than 110,000 Maryland voters received anonymous robocalls instructing them to “relax” and stay home because Governor Martin O’Malley had already won re-election. These calls came a full two hours before the polls closed.
- Days before the 2010 midterm elections, voters in Kansas received anonymous robocalls telling them to bring a voter registration card and proof of home ownership to the polls on Wednesday. This identification is not required to vote and the election was on a Tuesday.
- Shortly before last year's election, individuals in Missouri received robocalls that listed the local hospital on the caller ID. The voice on the other end was a prerecorded political message from an organization that manipulated the caller ID device.
The Robocall Privacy Act would ban:
Political robocalls between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- Any campaign or group from making more than two robocalls to the same telephone number in a single day.
- Organizers of any robocall from blocking the “caller identification” number.
- Require an announcement at the beginning of the robocall indentifying the individual or organization making the call, as well as the fact that it is a prerecorded message.
The enforcement provisions include a fine for violators of the law, with additional fines for callers who willfully violate the law. The bill also allows voters to sue to stop calls immediately, but not receive monetary damages. A judge can order violators of the law to stop these abusive calls.