The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to combat robocalls, tackling what one sponsor called a “consumer protection crisis.”
The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act would, among other things, increase fines for robocallers to as much as $10,000 per call and extend the statute of limitations from one year to three years.
The Senate voted 97-1 in favor of the bill, with only Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, opposing it.
“It’s a daily deluge of calls that Americans experience,” Democratic Sen. Edward Markey, one of the bill’s sponsors, said on the Senate floor. “It’s a consumer protection crisis.”
Americans received 48 billion robocalls last year, and unsolicited calls are expected to make up almost half of all calls that Americans receive by the end of 2019, according to YouMail, which collects and analyzes calls through its robocall blocking service.
“Attempts to defraud Americans through automated calls have grown more prevalent and more sophisticated,” The New York Times recently reported. “Robocallers can generate telephone numbers that mask their location, adopting area codes that mimic the neighborhood of the recipient, making it more likely people will answer.”
According to the Times, Republicans and Democrats have found a “common enemy” in robocalls, with lawmakers during the previous Congress holding three hearings and passing 13 bills aimed at curtailing the problem.
The TRACED Act “is the most significant piece of legislation to address the issue so far,” The Hill said.
“It will make life a lot more difficult for scam artists and help ensure that more scammers face punishment for their crimes,” Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the other sponsor, said.
The bill would also instruct the Federal Communications Commission to develop further anti-robocall regulations and accelerate the rollout of so-called “call authentication” technologies that could reduce the number of calls coming from unverified numbers.
The legislation must still pass the House, where Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey and the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, earlier this year revived the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act.