The Right to Robocall?
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Cell phone technology has introduced new ways of marketing products to customers, anywhere, anytime.

The Right to Robocall?

Your phone didn’t ring. But you have a voicemail from a telemarketer. How did that happen? And is this “ringless voicemail” even legal? Turns out, the answer is more complicated than it seems. Here at Election Central, we take a look at the rights of consumers (like you) versus the rights of telemarketing companies to advertise to you.

Telephone Protection

Most of us can agree that “robocalls,” otherwise known as telemarketing, are an annoying inconvenience. But are they also a violation of your right to privacy? At the heart of this debate is the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC. The FCC’s job is to regulate communications, whether by radio, television, wire, satellite, or cable. It must protect the public interest, while at the same time promoting new communications technologies that will help our economy grow. Ultimately, it is up to the FCC to set rules about telemarketing.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), passed in 1991, regulates what telemarketers can and can’t do. Under the TCPA, ringless voicemails are illegal. However, this ruling has recently been challenged, with mixed responses.

A Right to Spam?

In June, the FCC began considering a petition from several telemarketing firms, asking the FCC to lift its ban on ringless voicemail calls. The petition received support from many Republican senators, who claimed that restricting such calls was potentially a burden on those companies’ right to freedom of speech.

But Democratic senators wrote a letter to the FCC asking them to deny the petition, saying that ringless voicemail calls should remain illegal because they take away a consumer’s control over who has access to their phone. In other words, telemarketing companies can barrage potential customers with voicemail messages without the customer’s consent, essentially “spamming” people’s voicemail boxes. And while spam filters exist for email, there is no such technology for voicemail, leaving the consumer vulnerable. For this reason, many consumer groups, as well as individual consumers, also opposed the petition.

Last month, the company that brought the petition agreed to drop it. Though they didn’t give a specific reason, it’s assumed that they gave in due to heavy consumer opposition. So while the issue has been put to rest for now, there could be more attempts to legalize straight-to-voicemail robocalls in the future.

What Do You Think? Should telemarketing firms have the right to leave you voicemail messages advertising their product, or not? Do you agree with Senate Republicans that companies have the right to leave such message as a form of freedom of speech? Or do you agree with Senate Democrats and consumer groups that allowing such calls violates consumer privacy rights? Explain your point of view.
Valerie Cumming