US Supreme Court Strengthens Law Prohibiting ‘Automatic Calls’


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States Supreme Court upheld and strengthened on Monday a law prohibiting the widely known but ubiquitous telemarketing practice known as automatic calls, removing a waiver to the extent that it had allowed automatic calls to collect certain money owed to the government.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the US Supreme Court building in Washington, USA, June 25, 2020. REUTERS / Al Drago / File Photo

The 7-2 court ruling, written by conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh, was a defeat for political and electoral organizations seeking to use automatic dialing technology to communicate with the cell phones of potential voters. They had argued that the prohibition of automatic calls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 violated the rights to freedom of expression under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Kavanaugh wrote that the government debt collection exemption, added to the law in 2015, violated the First Amendment because it favored the government’s discourse over the political discourse of private entities without sufficient justification.

With few exceptions, automatic calls to cell phones are illegal in the United States unless a person has given their prior consent.

The groups wanted the ban on automatic calls to cell phones to be removed entirely, saying the law violated the First Amendment. The US Federal Communications Commission urged the court to uphold both the automatic dialing ban and the government debt exemption.

“Americans passionately disagree about many things. But they are largely united in their disdain for automatic calls. The federal government receives a staggering number of complaints about automatic calls: 3.7 million complaints in 2019 alone. Also, states have a steady stream of complaints, ”Kavanaugh wrote.

Despite the ban, the volume of automated calls has increased in recent years, and Americans received 58.5 billion automatic calls last year, up 22% from 2018, according to YouMail, a company that provides a service. to block automatic calls.

The amendment to the law allowed automatic calls to be made to collect debts owed or guaranteed by the federal government, including many student and mortgage debts.

During the May arguments in the case, teleconferenced due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kavanaugh seemed reluctant to rule in a way that would make Americans inundated with even more automatic calls.

“If you just take a look, just a look, at the real world here,” Kavanaugh said at the time, “this is one of the most popular laws on the books because people don’t like automatic cell phone calls.”

To view a graph of the main cases before the Supreme Court, click on tmsnrt.rs/2mZn6MJ

Reports by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham

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