U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján Leads Colleagues Urging FCC To Increase Robocall Accountability & Transparency

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján

U.S. SENATE News:

WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) led 11 Senate colleagues in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure timely public disclosures on providers most responsible for enabling illegal robocalls.

These disclosures would increase transparency, public accountability, and help strengthen other robocall mitigation requirements, while enabling telecom providers, public advocates, law enforcement and regulators to hold bad actors accountable.

The average American receives an estimated nearly two hundred robocalls a year; and scam calls were estimated to cost Americans over $30 billion in 2021. The Industry Traceback Group, run by USTelecom is the federally designated consortium for tracing robocalls to their source and identifying providers that carry and facilitate illegal traffic. To date, it has conducted thousands of tracebacks of illegal robocalls, however only limited information regarding these tracebacks is released to Congress, other providers, or the general public.

The letter is also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkely (D-Ore.), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chris Van H0llen (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Sen. Luján and the lawmakers wrote, “Fighting illegal robocalls must remain a top priority for the Commission as these unwanted calls continue to undermine the integrity of our communications networks and scam Americans out of billions of dollars.”

“Every year the Industry Traceback Group (ITG) conducts thousands of tracebacks to find the source of this illegal traffic by tracing each provider along the call path who helped facilitate the illegal call. However, this critical raw traceback information is only released privately and on a selective basis to regulators and law enforcement according to the consortium’s policies. The private nature of these disclosures makes it hard for the public, law enforcement, and victims to identify complicit providers and hold them accountable,” the lawmakers continued. “To increase accountability on providers who continue to facilitate illegal traffic, the Commission should ensure timely public disclosures on all consortium tracebacks reasonably suspected to have originated from illegal robocalls. Such disclosures will increase accountability on providers that are actively facilitating or turning a blind eye to robocalls facilitated on their networks.”

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

We write to thank you for your ongoing work to fight the scourge of unwanted and illegal robocalls in the United States. This must remain a top priority for the Commission as these unwanted calls continue to undermine the integrity of our communications networks and scam Americans out of billions of dollars. To this end, we also urge the Commission to take additional steps to ensure accountability for those providers who continue to facilitate and profit from illegal robocalls.

Fraudulent robocallers continue to harass Americans at an alarming rate. In 2021 alone, the average American with a phone received nearly 200 robocalls.[1] These calls aren’t simply annoying; they’re dangerous. Scam calls made up 42 percent of all robocalls in 2021, and accounted for approximately $30 billion in losses, compared to $20 billion in 2020 and $10.5 billion in 2019.[2] We were pleased to see recent action on the part of the Commission to crack down on entities engaged in illegal robocall campaigns,[3] and applaud the Commission’s February 2022 announcement of new enforcement MOUs with Colorado and Vermont.[4] We also wish to express our support for the Feb. 2, 2022 proposal to require callers to obtain a consumer’s consent before delivering a “ringless voicemail,” a message left in their mailbox, to give consumers the power to protect themselves from fraud.[5]

May 19 the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules[6] to ensure gateway providers are complying with the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication protocols, and require these providers take additional steps to validate the identity of the providers whose traffic they are routing. Gateway providers are the on-ramps for international call traffic, and must be partners in ensuring illegal robocalls that originate internationally are kept off of American networks. According to USTelecom, some of the most dangerous robocalls, including scammers impersonating the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agencies, “almost always are coming from overseas”.[7]

To this end it is appropriate to enlist gateway providers and domestic originating providers in the national fight against illegal robocalls. The Industry Traceback Group (ITG) is the national consortium selected by the FCC to coordinate private-led efforts to traceback illegal robocalls. However, despite mitigation efforts by the consortium, and active responses by state attorneys general and national regulators, robocalls volumes remain a persistent problem.[8]

Every year the ITG conducts thousands of tracebacks to find the source of this illegal traffic by tracing each provider along the call path who helped facilitate the illegal call. However this critical raw traceback information is only released privately and on a selective basis to regulators and law enforcement according to the consortium’s policies. The private nature of these disclosures makes it hard for the public, law enforcement, and victims to identify complicit providers and hold them accountable. In one instance, a provider accused of bringing hundreds of millions of robocalls onto US telecommunications networks had been found to have been involved in over 132 private tracebacks over a two year period.[9] These providers are already informed as tracebacks are conducted, and revealing this information publicly would not provide any additional information to bad actors who profit from illegal robocalls.

To increase accountability on providers who continue to facilitate illegal traffic, the Commission should ensure timely public disclosures on all consortium tracebacks reasonably suspected to have originated from illegal robocalls. Such disclosures will increase accountability on providers that are actively facilitating, or turning a blind-eye to robocalls facilitated on their networks.

Specifically, each disclosure should:

  1. Identify at least (1) the originating or gateway provider and (2) the first intermediate provider. This information is critical to ensure there is public accountability for providers that are failing to mitigate illegal traffic being carried on their networks.
  2. Give the named providers the opportunity to provide comment to be included in the disclosure for additional context on how the call was facilitated on their networks and how it evaded active mitigation measures.
  3. Provide current contact information for the providers in the disclosure.
  4. Include the first three digits (area code) of the target call, the date of the call, and a summary description of the robocall content.

The Commission should continue pursuing both measures to increase public accountability and institute strong regulatory requirements for gateway and intermediate providers for mitigating illegal robocalls. Declining trust in the national telephone network is causing tremendous harm to consumers and public safety officials. Americans need to trust that their communications networks are being held to the highest levels of integrity so it can be used for critical causes such as accessing government services and emergency response.

Thank you again for all your work in combatting illegal robocalls, and we look forward to working with you on this important issue.

LOS ALAMOS

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