Lawmakers announce efforts to curb robocalls

Sen. Charles "Chuck" Schumer (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

Legislators on a state and federal level are growing increasingly impatient with the increasing problem of robocalls. According to the office of U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Americans received 47.7 billion robocalls last year, a 57 percent increase from the year before.

On Monday, Schumer visited the James M. Hanley Federal Building in Syracuse to condemn a string of recent robocalls using international numbers — according to a press release, Schumer said that Syracuse has received 15 million robocalls out of 290.3 million statewide in April alone.

Schumer’s proposal — the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act — would allow the Federal Communications Commission to charge up to $10,000 per call, increase the statue of limitations, call on other agencies to issue recommendations to Congress and require telecommunication companies to use call authentication technology.

“The TRACED Act will arm federal agencies with new tools and authority to trace, prosecute, and enforce fines against robocall scammers,” Schumer was quoted as saying. “It will also set new call authentication requirements designed to filter out robocalls before they reach the phones of unsuspecting New Yorkers.”

On a state level, legislators are already taking action. Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, announced on Monday that he is joining a bipartisan coalition of legislators to tackle the issue, announcing his support for four bills.

“Like you, I’m sick and tired of getting calls from spam-artists and con-artists who get more clever by the day,” Walczyk was quoted as saying in the news release. “That’s why I’m reaching across the aisle to leverage technology against the problem.”

One of them, A.675A (S.3297A in the Senate), would do some similar things as Schumer’s proposed federal law — increasing the fine on robocalls up to $2,000 per call — up to $20,000 total for a 72-hour period — and requiring phone providers to make technology that would block robocalls available for consumers free of charge.

The proposal has received broad support from northern New York state legislators.

“I’m extremely supportive of this legislation,” Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, R-Black River, said in a statement. “I’m working to sign on as a co-sponsor and I’d vote for it on the floor tomorrow. Most of these calls are frivolous at best and predatory at worst.”

Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, said he would support the Senate version of the legislation.

“I remain concerned with the frequency of unsolicited, unwanted and unwelcome phone calls many, including myself, have received at all hours of the day and night,” he said in a statement. “While the federal government should strive to find ways to fix any flaws in the Do Not Call Registry, I have sponsored legislation that I believe will better discourage telemarketers and others from violating this law in New York State and would increase the fine applied to violators of the Do Not Call Registry to $20,000 — nearly double the current punishment for those found to be in violation.”

Walczyk and Griffo also supported additional legislation on the issue, including bills (A.02230A and the similar S.1125) that would allow phone providers to block numbers that appear to be robocallers.

“These calls are an invasion of the public’s privacy and should not be tolerated,” Griffo was quoted as saying. “I will continue to do everything in my power to stop shameless callers from bothering people who simply want to be left alone.”

In his news release, Walczyk also said he supports A.3481/S.03434, which would prevent telecommunication companies from contracting with New York state if they do not provide free call-blocking technology.

“Robocalls are a nuisance to many of us, but they could also prey on our personal information and charge undisclosed exchange rates, so they certainly have the potential to be dangerous,” Walzcyk was quoted as saying. “I will be working with my colleagues to ensure every New York resident, especially those in the Front Yard of America, have their information kept safe.”