A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday approved by voice vote H.R. 251, which would prohibit “spoofing,” a scam by which callers mask their caller identification with the intent of defrauding or harming the receiver of the call. Bill supporters say the legislation is needed to protect Americans’ against manipulations intended to breach their privacy.
Allison Knight, staff counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said her organization supports the bill as it provides the necessary balance between protecting the right of callers to limit the disclosure of their phone number for privacy and safety reasons and the right of call recipients to be free from fraud, the loss of their privacy, stalking threats, identity theft and harassment.
“What we seek in caller ID policy is balance,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the telecommunications and Internet subcommittee that approved the bill. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), would not prohibit callers from blocking their caller identification.
Last June, the measure passed the House under suspension of the rules in June, but the Senate took no action on the bill. Engel, along with House Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas), reintroduced the measure in January.
“It’s sad that the Senate didn’t take it up last year, or it would have been public law,” said subcommittee ranking member Fred Upton (R-Mich.). “The age of information has resulted in the explosion of ID theft.”
By voice vote, the committee adopted an amendment offered by Markey that would clarify the definition of a Voice Over Internet Protocol service provider. Markey said the language modification would ensure that spoofing by callers using VOIP technology would be prohibited regardless of whether they provide one- or two-way service. As originally drafted, the legislation would have identified VOIP service providers as ones that have both capabilities.
During the hearing preceding the markup, Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) asked whether the bill’s intent standard would cover non-profits or political action committees that mask their caller ID information when calling voters.
“I just worry that we’re leaving a loophole here that we’re going to have to address at some point in the future,” Green said. “Whether it’s me as a Democrat calling Republican voters, they ought to have the correct caller ID information.”
Green said he’s working with Barton, Engel and committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) to address the issue but added that he would wait until full committee consideration to offer an amendment.
Green also questioned whether the practice would be prohibited under Federal Communications Commission rules on caller ID spoofing.
Kris Monteith, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said she didn’t believe that those types of organizations would be exempted from their rules.
Montieth said that to date, the FCC has investigated 12 companies that allegedly market and sell caller ID spoofing services. The agency issued a citation against Intelligent Alternatives, a telemarketing company, for violating an FCC rule mandating that telemarketers provide accurate caller ID information.