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Automated calls to cellphones violate federal lawSaturday, August 11, 2012
(News Press (FL))
August 12, 2012
Mel: Automated calls to cellphones violate federal
Readers who called to complain they were on the Do Not Call list and were getting political calls heard this spiel from me: These calls are protected free speech and are exempted from the Do Not Call list provisions.
That’s what I told Stan Andrzejewski, of Estero, who said his wife, who is home during the day, is fielding four to five of these calls. Another two to three come in after he gets home from work.
“Everyone is putting those calls out like crazy. It’s ridiculous,” Andrzejewski said.
When I told him political calls and charities are exempt under Do Not Call, Andrzejewski made a good point.
“Politicians approved the law. But that they do it to my home line is unconscionable,” Andrzejewski said. “The law needs to be changed.”
When Ed Midgett called with the same complaint and I started in with my canned response, he cut me short.
“I know they are exempted,” from the Do Not Call rules, the Cape Coral man said. “But we got rid of our home phone. They’re calling our cellphone and burning up our minutes.”
Midgett said he had to purchase an extra 100 minutes on his cellphone because of the automated calls he’s receiving during this political season.
That sent me in research mode and here’s what I found: Automated calls to cellphones violate the federal law.
Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, “campaign volunteers may call voters on their land line or wireless phones. But when a campaign uses an auto dialer to leave a “robocall” (precorded message), calls to wireless phones are prohibited,” Amy Storey wrote in an email.
Storey, the assistant vice president, public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, said there is an exception if the voter has given “prior express consent.”
I doubt many people have told politicians it’s OK to make robocalls to their cellphones. So why are campaigns doing it given the law is clear on the subject?
Because a lot of politicians don’t know this section of the law, said Chris Kolker, president of GOPCalls.com, a company that makes automated calls for Republican candidates and conservative causes.
Politicians know they are exempt from Do Not Call, Kolker said, but they may not realize the exemption doesn’t include robocalls to cellphones. Kolker said GOPcalls.com can “scrub the list,” removing cellphone numbers, but many politicians opt out of that service.
Kolker said not everyone objects to political calls. Over 40 percent of the people called for polls will participate, Kolker said. Because many people have cell phone plans with unlimited minutes, he’s not sure the law really applies, as the voters aren’t being charged.
But for others the law is clear.
“Thousands of politicians are violating the law,” said Shaun Dakin, CEO and founder of the National Political Do Not Contact Registry (stoppoliticalcalls.org). Since starting the nonprofit, nonpartisan, Washington-based organization late in 2007, 50,000 voters have registered phone numbers asking politicians and other political groups not to call.
About 15 percent of the people on the registry live in Florida, Dakin said, a state where voters can get 10-15 robocalls a day during the political season.
Only 30 politicians have pledged not to make robocalls, he said, and none are from Florida.
“Politics is war and people believe they need to have every single weapon at their disposal,” Dakin said. “If they agree not to call they think this is giving an advantage to their opponents.”
But it’s not, Dakin said. People hate getting these calls and they need to let candidates know the calls don’t work, he said. And in the case of cell phone robocalls, candidates need to know it’s illegal.
He suggested writing down the name of the candidate who called, finding his telephone number and calling him.
“If you say, ‘You’re illegally calling my cellphone.’ That might get their attention,” Dakin said. “If they don’t know the law they should.”
Dakin also suggests filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.gov). “If there’s no enforcement, no one will stop,” Dakin said.
Finally, “Call the candidate up … and let them know you won’t vote for them or contribute to them (if they call you),” Dakin said. “The only way it will stop is if voters call their elected officials and say, ‘enough is enough.’”
It is enough for Andrzejewski, who has a friend running for office. He said if he gets any more robocalls from him, “I’m going to call him and tell him I won’t be voting for him.”