Anti-Robocall “ROBOCOP Act” Gets New Life In Senate

Two months ago, Rep. Jackie Speier (CA) introduced the ROBOCOP Act, a bill that would compel phone service providers to finally make it easier for customers to block automated and prerecorded robocalls. With that bill sitting idly in committee — and executives like AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson incorrectly claiming they need permission to deploy robo-blockers — maybe it’s time for ROBOCOP 2: The Senate Version.

At his weekly press event on Sunday, New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced he would be introducing the ROBOCOP Act — which would direct the FCC to require that telephone service providers offer their customers free, optional robocall-blocking technology — to the Senate this week.

“Despite the existing ‘Do Not Call’ registry, the robocall problem has returned in a serious way,” said Schumer. “It’s an epidemic that we’ve got to stop — whether it’s the landline or the mobile phone. It’s taking far too long for telecom companies to act.”

Our colleague Chuck Bell from Consumers Union was on hand for Sunday’s announcement and joined Schumer in calling for federal lawmakers to do something about robocalls.

“Most Americans have signed up for the Do Not Call list, but the unwanted calls from telemarketers and scam artists have just gotten worse,” said Bell.

While there are nearly 225 million phone numbers registered on the Do Not Call list, that only prevents legitimate telemarketers from making unwanted calls to consumers. The current, growing problem with robocalls is that most of them come from ID thieves and other scammers who don’t really care if they break the law; after all, that’s what criminals do.

Many of these calls also use “spoofed” phone numbers, so that the number you see on Caller ID before you pick up is not the actual number of the person calling. Spoofing, when done without intention to defraud, is legal and has legitimate purposes — hiding the location of crime victims, protecting news sources — but it adds yet another layer of difficulty to federal investigators trying to track down the fraudsters.

There are numerous methods — both hardware- and software-based — for minimizing unwanted calls, though few have been deployed on any large scale by telecom providers.

The widest deployment thus far has been Time Warner Cable’s integration of Nomorobo, the free service that won the Federal Trade Commission’s first public challenge to create a robocall-blocker. Verizon recently began to roll out its integration of nomorobo, but only for FiOS phone lines, as Nomorobo does not yet work on traditional landlines or wireless phones.

If you want to tell the phone companies that they should be doing more to enable robocall-blocking, check out the End Robocalls campaign from our pals at Consumers Union. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already signed petitions that have been delivered to the telecom giants, but these CEOs need to know that — since they don’t need the FCC’s permission — they have your okay to to help block robocalls.