Revamp of Telemarketer Act Cuts into Robo Calls but Falls Short of Needed Changes
On October 4, 2019, Governor Wolf signed into law Act 73 of 2019, and with it provided some much-needed updates to Pennsylvania’s Telemarketer Registration Act. 73 P.S. 2241, et seq. The changes were more surgical than sweeping and focused on a few key elements. First, the revisions added a definition of a “business telephone subscriber” and then added business telephone numbers to all of the prohibitions and requirements of the Act. The short answer here is that whatever requirements once applied only to residential and wireless customers, now also apply to businesses. The second focus was to add a stand-alone definition of “robocall” and to impose requirements for robocalls. The changes also include removing the 5-year lifespan of Do Not Call registrations – once you register, you are on the list until you deregister or abandon the line. Finally, the new law prohibits making telemarketing calls on Legal Holidays.
The new requirements for robocalls are clearly the centerpiece. As of December 2, 2019, those telemarketers that employ robocalling must adopt a procedure to allow recipients of robocalls to opt out and immediately be taken off the telemarketer’s call list. This process is called “immediate opt-out” must be made available through an automated, interactive voice or keypress activated mechanism and within two seconds of identifying the caller and on whose behalf the call is being made. Robocalls left on answering machines must include a toll-free call back number that similarly connects the caller to an opt-out system.
While the Act continues to prohibit actions taken by a telemarketer to “prevent the transmission of the telemarketer’s name or telephone number” to the called party, the changes fail to affirmatively address the current epidemic of a practice known as “spoofing” – where the telephone number of the caller is not “blocked” but rather faked – to resemble a number typically with the same area code and prefix as the called party to make them think the call might be from someone they actually know. The existing language does not squarely address this practice – not expressly prohibiting the use of a false number. The act also failed to impose any notice requirement for automated interactive calls. These calls are now being made using sophisticated computer software which create synthesized voices that sound and interact alarmingly like real people. Many people think these types of calls should be required to announce that the caller is a machine and may have a limited ability to interact, and respond to questions, etc.
Overall, these relatively minor changes put a small patch on a large hole in the existing law.