White House To Battle Facebook Over Robo-Texting Law

The Trump administration plans to ask an appellate court to reject Facebook's challenge to a federal law that limits companies' ability to send robo-texts to consumers.

The Department of Justice announced its plans this week in papers filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently considering whether to revive Montana resident Noah Duguid's lawsuit against Facebook. Duguid alleged in a 2014 complaint that Facebook repeatedly sent him unwanted text messages. Duguid, who apparently had been assigned a recycled phone number by his carrier, said that Facebook repeatedly sent him messages stating that his account had been accessed -- although he never had an account with the social networking service.

He argues that Facebook's messages violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits companies from using autodialers to send texts to consumers without their consent.

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U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in the Northern District of California dismissed Duguid's complaint, ruling that his allegations, even if true, would not support the conclusion that Facebook used an automated dialer to send the messages.

Duguid recently asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to revive the case. Facebook is opposing that request. The company makes several arguments, including that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act unconstitutionally restricts the company's free speech rights.

Specifically, the social networking service contends that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act violates the First Amendment because the law exempts robo-texts aimed at collecting debts owed to the government. The company argues that, with the exemption, the law effectively regulates speech based on its content -- in this case, whether the subject matter involves a debt to the government.

"Under the statute, a private debt collector is barred from making an unconsented autodialed call to a cell phone to discuss a student loan owed to a private bank," Facebook writes in papers filed last week. "But he is permitted to make an identical call if he changes the topic of the conversation and instead discusses collection of a government-backed student loan."

The Trump administration says in its new papers that it will defend the law's constitutionality. The government is seeking an Oct. 9 deadline to file its arguments.

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