Friday, March 9, 2018

Robocallers Use Out-of-State Loopholes to Evade Strict California Regulations

Robocalls, even from a company or political platform that you feel connected to, can be annoying at the best of times. Recently, there was a controversial legal battle centering around freedom of speech, the conclusion of which was that the state of Montana technically has the legal right to pass a law banning robocalls, even those of a political nature. At the very least, this decision could help Montanans to crack down and have specific rules regarding such calls, in an attempt to reduce the number, if not do away with them altogether. Interestingly enough, discovers David Lazarus in his L.A. Times article, California has some pretty strict laws regarding robocallers. It just so happens that nobody follows them.

Politicians in California have found loopholes to get around the laws regarding robocallers. According to the California Public Utilities Code, every robocall within California is required to begin with a live person and the name, phone number, and address of the organization making the call. Then, the live operator has to ask permission and get consent before playing the pre-recorded message. Only if every single one of those criteria is met is the robocall legally permissible. Of course, because most people are so accustomed to illegal robocalls, a call meeting those criteria tends to resemble telemarketing more than robocalling, which, of course, has its own set of negative responses.

Californian homes get constant robocalls from the beginning of election season all the way to election day. The way that most get away with the robocalls without technically breaking state law is by designing the calls to originate outside of the state. If the robocall is coming from a computer server in another state, technically it doesn't require a live operator or affirmative consent or really any other regulations before playing the message. Of course, even though this strategy avoids breaking state laws, it may be breaking federal laws, although that doesn't stop much. According to federal law, robocallers can't call cell phones (again, something that still happens all too often), but the federal policy has no restriction on robocalls to landlines. Even though many people have given up their landlines over the years, there are still several million throughout the country that can be targeted.

As you can see, there are restrictions on when and how a political representative can place robocalls. However, those regulations can be easily side-stepped. There is a potential solution, though. Because the callers can avoid state regulations by making the calls from another state, this can be prevented by passing a regulation that prohibits political robocalls from being placed out of state. If the political groups have to place their calls from in state, they will be forced to follow the state regulations, which would reduce annoyance and frustration among many recipients. Of course, this would severely limit the scope of a political group's reach, but at least they would be able to better target voters interested in their specific platform.

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