What is S. 151?
(Updated July 3, 2020)
This bill — the TRACED Act — would crack down on illegal robocall scams by giving the relevant federal agencies more time and resources to find and prosecute scammers and increasing civil forfeiture penalties for these crimes.
Specifically, this bill would:
Broaden the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on people who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions;
Extend the window for the FCC to catch and take civil enforcement action against intentional violations to three years after a robocall is placed from one year (under current law) by at least another year;
Bring the FCC, Dept. of Justice (DOJ), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Commerce Dept., State Dept., Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and other relevant federal agencies, as well as state attorneys general and other non-federal entities, together in an interagency working group to study and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution at the federal and state level of robocall scams (specifically, the working group would look into how to better enforce against robocalls by examining issues like the types of laws, policies, or constraints that could be inhibiting enforcement);
Require voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones within 18 months of this bill’s enactment, and require the FCC to assess this technology’s implementation and efficacy;
Direct the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers using unauthenticated numbers; and
The FCC would also be required to initiate a proceeding to determine whether its policies regarding access to number resources could be modified to help reduce access to numbers by potential robocall violators.
This bill’s full title is the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.
Argument in favor
Robocall scams are on the rise, endangering customers. Improving federal agencies’ coordination of efforts to combat these crimes will protect vulnerable customers and ensure that perpetrators of these crimes are found and punished.
The FCC is already cracking down on robocall scams. There’s no need for this bill, or for an interagency working group that’ll cost numerous agencies’ time and effort to convene.
Phone customers; robocalls; robocall scams; voice service providers; FCC; DOJ; FTC; Commerce Dept.; State Dept.; DHS; CFPB; and state attorneys general.
Cost of S. 151
The CBO estimates that this bill would cost the FCC $1 million over the 2019-2024 period to implement. However, because the FCC can collect fees to offset its regulatory costs, the CBO estimates that the net cost would be negligible.
In-Depth: Sen. John Thune (R-SD) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to crack down on illegal robocall scams:
“Robocall scams are more than just a nuisance to folks, they’re a shameful tactic to prey on the vulnerable. The TRACED Act holds those people who participate in robocall scams and intentionally violate telemarketing laws accountable and does more to proactively protect consumers who are potential victims of these bad actors.”
Attorneys general from 54 states and territories sent a letter of support for this bill, and all Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioners, major industry associations, and leading consumer groups have expressed their support for this bill. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says:
“I’m grateful to Senators Thune and Markey for re-introducing the TRACED Act. This legislation would make it easier for the FCC to track and take down illegal robocall scams and require the private sector to verify that the calls consumers receive are legitimate. I have made cracking down on unwanted and illegal robocalls our top consumer protection priority at the FCC, and we stand ready to work with Congress to tackle this issue head on.”
Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) President and CEO Meredith Attwall Baker says:
“We applaud Senators Thune and Markey for reintroducing the TRACED Act. Aggressive enforcement is key to combatting illegal and unwanted robocalls. CTIA and its members have implemented a multifaceted approach including new applications and network-based tools and industry initiatives. This is an issue we take seriously, and we commend this bipartisan legislation for enhancing the FCC’s authority to protect American consumers by going after bad actors and acknowledging the importance of industry’s efforts to adopt and implement call authentication.”
Observing the broad support for their bill, Sen. Thune and original cosponsor Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said:
“The overwhelming groundswell of support for the TRACED Act confirms what millions of consumers across the country already know – the scourge of invasive and intrusive spoofed robocalls has reached epidemic levels, and it’s time to hang up on these fraudsters once and for all. Our legislation will establish meaningful protections to authenticate and block spoofed calls, while also giving federal regulators more flexibility to pursue and penalize scammers. We thank the bipartisan coalition of FCC Commissioners, FTC Commissioners, consumer groups, and industry stakeholders for their support, and look forward to the quick consideration of the TRACED Act in Congress.”
This bill passed the Senate with an amendment by a 97-1 vote (Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was the sole objector) with the support of 84 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including 42 Democrats, 40 Republicans, and two Independents. There are two House companion bills, both sponsored by Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN): H.R.2015, the TRACED Act, has 52 bipartisan cosponsors, including 41 Republicans and 11 Democrats; and H.R.1602, also called the TRACED Act, has two Republican cosponsors.
In the 115th Congress, this bill had three bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including two Republicans and one Democrat, and didn’t receive a committee vote. A House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), didn’t have any cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: In 2018, the Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony from Adrian Abramovich, then-president of a now-defunct company called Marketing Strategy Leaders. Abramovich described a telemarketing operation as rather easy to put together and nimble, thus making enforcement difficult. His identification by the FCC and assessment of civil penalties raised questions for the committee about the lack of criminal prosecution for offenders caught intentionally and repeatedly violating telemarketing laws.
In a fall 2018 report, First Orion, a leading provider of phone call and data transparency solutions, found a dramatic increase in scam calls to mobile phones, from 3.7% of total calls in 2017 to 29.2% in 2018. Furthermore, First Orion projected that figure to continue growing, up to 44.6% by early 2019.
The FTC has taken a range of enforcement against robocallers recently. In 2018, the agency fined Adrian Abramovich $120 million — the largest fine it’d ever levied — for malicious spoofing related to a robocall scheme.
Sponsoring Sen. John Thune (R-SD) Press Release
Sponsoring Sen. John Thune (R-SD) Op-Ed
Senate Commerce Committee Hearing: Abusive Robocalls and How We Can Stop Them (115th Congress)
First Orion Report - Scam Call Trends and Projects Report (Context, Fall 2018)
The Washington Post
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Tero Vesalainen)
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