Justice Department Backs Facebook In Fight Over Robotexts

Siding with Facebook, the Trump administration is urging the Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit claiming the social media company violated a federal law by sending unwanted text messages.

The legal fight centers on Montana resident Noah Duguid's claims that Facebook violated a federal robotexting law. Duguid alleged in a class-action complaint that Facebook repeatedly notified him via text that his account had been accessed -- although he never had an account with the service.

Duguid, who apparently had been assigned a recycled phone number, claimed the messages violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. That law prohibits companies from using autodialers to text consumers without their consent.

Facebook has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case on the grounds that Duguid's allegations, even if accepted as true, wouldn't show the company used an autodialer to send the messages.

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In papers filed late last week with the Supreme Court, the U.S. Department of Justice says it agrees with Facebook.

The Justice Department's argument, like Facebook's, hinges on the meaning of autodialer -- a term defined by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act as equipment capable of storing and dialing numbers using a random or sequential generator.

The Justice Department and social networking platform both argue that Facebook's system doesn't meet that definition because it wasn't capable of generating numbers randomly. Instead, assuming the allegations are true, the system only generated numbers in response to information about potential security breaches.

Judges across the country have considered this issue in numerous cases, and have arrived at different conclusions. In Duguid's lawsuit, a federal district court judge accepted Facebook's argument and dismissed the lawsuit.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case last year, ruling that the complaint alleged that Facebook “maintains a database of phone numbers” and that it “programs its equipment to automatically generate messages to those stored numbers.”

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