Privacy advocates and consumer groups are urging a federal appellate court to uphold the Federal Communications Commission's tough new text-spam rules.
"The ubiquitous role of cell phones in modern American life has amplified the nuisance and privacy invasion caused by unwanted calls and text messages," the Electronic Information Privacy Center and other privacy organizations say in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. "Cell phones demand to be answered not only at home, but anywhere the user goes. Now is not the time to eliminate protections for consumer privacy."
The groups are responding to a lawsuit challenging a new FCC text-spam rule regarding calls to reassigned phone numbers. Last year, the FCC voted 3-2 to pass new rules implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits companies from using automated dialers to place robocalls or send text messages without recipients' consent. Numerous Web companies -- including Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, and Lyft -- have been sued for allegedly violating that law by sending unwanted text messages.
Among other changes, the new rules provide that companies can only send one autodialed text (or make one robocall) to a reassigned number. If companies continue to send SMS messages to reassigned numbers, they could face damages of up to $1,500 per message.
The debt collection association ACA International, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others are asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the new regulations. That request is backed by the Internet Association -- which includes Amazon, Google, Facebook and PayPal.
The Internet Association argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed last month that the new changes threaten its members with significant liability. The organization contends that the one-call limit for reassigned numbers isn't workable, given estimates that 100,000 cell phone numbers are reassigned to new users daily. "Companies who have received consent to communicate with their users or customers ... may potentially be racking up significant statutory liability without even knowing it," the Internet Association says.
But EPIC and the other privacy groups say companies that place calls should "bear the burden of ensuring that the number dialed still belongs to the party that gave consent."
The privacy organizations add: "Callers, not consumers, are best positioned to maximize consensual and legitimate communications while minimizing intrusive and privacy-invading communications."
Consumer groups including Consumers Union, AARP and the Consumer Federation of America also are backing the FCC. Those groups say that companies "must be incentivized to stop the wrong number calls."
"Without proper incentives to stop making wrong-number calls, the industry will simply keep calling," the organizations argue.