Niagara Gazette

Opinion

February 16, 2014

EDITORIAL: Time to get a handle on robocalls

Niagara Gazette — Calling himself “Robo Cop,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer last week called for harsher fines and even jail time for repeat offenders who violate the federal “Do Not Call” rules with pre-recorded telemarketing calls.

Complaints about the annoying, dinner-ruining phone calls have increased in certain years, leading Schumer to introduce the “Quell Unnecessary, Intentional, and Encroaching Telephone Calls Act of 2014,” or QUIET Act, to crack down on solicitors. 

Bad acronym aside, the crackdown is welcome. 

Sure, some people probably love to get phone calls asking them to apply for credit cards or get new windows on their home or pay fees for vacations that they “won.” But most people know how to find their own credit cards, windows and time-share deals without having their day interrupted repeatedly, which is why there were 131,491 complaints about robocalls from New Yorkers to the Federal Trade Commission in 2013. More than 3,300 of the complaints came from Niagara County.

There is already a “Do Not Call” list with restrictions preventing telemarketers from calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. The penalty is only a $1,500 fine, though, which Schumer says is practically an invitation to companies to break the law. So he’s calling for penalties to increase to $20,000 and include possible jail time. 

Worth noting, there are exemptions covering some callers, including telephone surveyors, political organizations, emergency alerters and charitable organizations. Also, companies with which you have an existing business relationship are exempt. 

We can understand the exemption for emergency alerts as well as for companies with which you have an existing relationship. Other exemptions make us wonder, especially for political organizations, because nothing ruins the mood faster than a pre-recorded call from Bill Clinton or Dick Cheney.

If Schumer were really interesting in protecting us from being annoyed, he’d go one better than raising fines and eliminate the political exemption as well.

The reasoning for the political exemption, of course, is that it constitutes “free speech.” But free speech only allows one to talk. It doesn’t require the other person to listen. Standing on a corner asking people to vote for you is free speech. Interrupting dinner every night from mid-October until early November is harassment.

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