Court Ruling Could Unleash Flood of New Robocalls

Woman receiving robocall
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A U.S. Supreme Court ruling could unleash a new flood of robocalls, consumer advocates say.

In a unanimous decision in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, the court ruled in favor of Facebook this week, recognizing the legality of a notification system that the social media company uses to alert users to suspicious logins. The justices said the system does not violate a federal law designed to curb robocalls and automated text messages.

The upshot is that the ruling effectively strips away the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s prohibition against autodialed calls and texts to cellphones, according to the nonprofit National Consumer Law Center. Under the TCPA, such calls and texts are not legal unless the called party consents to them.

The center says that prohibition was “one of the most important protections against unwanted robocalls.” The center criticized the court for interpreting the act’s definition of an autodialer “so narrowly that it applies to few or none of the autodialers in use today.”

As a result, the National Consumer Law Center now predicts that robocall and automated text activity will surge. In an announcement, Margot Saunders, senior counsel for the center, says:

“Americans already receive 46 billion robocalls a year. We call on Congress to act immediately to provide needed protection against unconsented-to automated calls and texts so that cellphones are not rendered useless due to the expected huge increase in unwanted robocalls and texts.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) — one of the original authors of the TCPA — and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) criticized the court’s decision and vowed to “introduce legislation to amend the TCPA, fix the Court’s error, and protect consumers.”

Meanwhile, the National Consumer Law Center notes that consumers can still protect themselves to some degree by registering their cellphone and landline numbers on the national do-not-call list. However, the center also notes that robocallers routinely ignore this list.

In a silver lining, the center says the court’s decision does not impact the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s restrictions on prerecorded calls to cellphones.

For more on keeping unwanted calls at bay, check out “8 Steps to Put an End to Robocalls.”

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