Wonder why you’ve been receiving more robocalls? A 2018 ruling by a federal appellate court has something to do with it

Per Ballotpedia, if it seems like the number of automated telephone calls you’re getting is increasing—trying to sell you medical insurance, extended car warranties, or solar panels, your gut reaction is probably right. According to a January 29, 2019, report by The Washington Post, Americans received approximately 26.3 billion automated phone calls in 2018, a 46 percent increase over the number received in 2017. And that increase can be attributed in part to a federal appellate court ruling that expanded the types of equipment that can be used legally to make automated calls.

This decision occurred on March 16, 2018, when a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its ruling in ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission. The decision struck down a rule promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the types of equipment that can be used for making automated phone calls. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), enacted in 1991, granted the FCC the authority to interpret and enforce the law’s restrictions against the use of certain kinds of automated dialing equipment. In 2015, the FCC issued an order that, among other things, classified devices capable of being transformed into automated dialing systems via the installation of apps as devices subject to the restrictions of the TCPA. The court found that this classification metric was overly broad.

Judge Srikanth Srinivasan, appointed to the court by Barack Obama (D), wrote the following in the court’s opinion: “The Commission’s understanding would appear to subject ordinary calls from any conventional smartphone to the Act’s coverage, an unreasonably expansive interpretation of the statute.” Srinivasan was joined by Judges Cornelia T. L. Pillard and Harry Edwards, who were appointed to the court by Obama and Jimmy Carter (D), respectively.

Ajit Pai, who became chairman of the FCC in 2017, agreed with the court’s decision, stating that the original FCC rules “placed every American consumer with a smartphone at substantial risk of violating federal law.” Another FCC Commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, who was on the commission when the 2015 rules were adopted, said: “One thing is clear in the wake of today’s court decision: robocalls will continue to increase unless the FCC does something about it.”

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