Attorneys general call for expanded robocall response


Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and 51 other attorneys general this week called on USTelecom and its Industry Traceback Group (ITG) to continue its collaboration with state attorneys general by bolstering technological capabilities to improve enforcement against illegal robocallers.

In a letter sent Monday to USTelecom – the leading organization representing telecommunications providers – the bipartisan coalition of attorneys general urged the association to further develop robocall traceback and other tools suited for law enforcement needs. The letter was co-sponsored by Yost and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“These fraudulent calls are a pain to all of us and they’re a threat to vulnerable people who have no reason to doubt the voice on the other end of the line,” Yost said. “Partnerships like this one are helping us develop the cutting-edge tools we need to stop the nuisance once and for all.”

The letter asks USTelecom to advance the ITG’s abilities in identifying robocall campaigns, trends and business ecosystems; conducting automated traceback investigations; and coordinating with relevant law enforcement agencies.

A key part of that action would be for USTelecom to develop and roll out an online platform to collect live data from carriers and robocall-blocking apps. When USTelecom or a law enforcement agency detects an illegal robocall campaign, the law enforcement agency would then be able to submit a subpoena to USTelecom in a streamlined online portal.

The process would allow for rapid review by USTelecom and provide law enforcement agencies the ability to expedite subpoena procedures and access the platform to quickly retrieve relevant data. The platform would bolster law enforcement investigations and could potentially lead to attorneys general offices issuing temporary restraining orders that could stop a live robocall campaign in its tracks.

“The issue of illegal robocalls is a nationwide concern, and I’m proud to stand with a bipartisan coalition of my colleagues from across the country in working to address it,” Nessel said. “Far too many people have accepted robocalls as a normal part of their everyday lives. The unfortunate reality is that we expect the number of robocalls to continue climbing if we don’t take quick and aggressive action. Law enforcement agencies need the right set of tools to combat this pervasive issue, and furthering this collaboration is a step in the right direction.”

The coalition’s letter follows a January 2020 meeting in Washington, D.C., with representatives from state attorneys general offices, federal agencies and the telecom industry. Some priorities developed at that meeting include:

– Automating and increasing the total volume of traceback investigations;

– Alerting relevant law enforcement agencies of suspected illegal robocall campaigns;

– Enabling law enforcement agencies to electronically upload and receive responses to subpoenas and civil investigative demands, and providing swift response to those requests; and

– Identifying noncooperative Voice Service Providers, including those that don’t participate in the traceback process, repeatedly originate or accept illegal robocalls, or repeatedly fail to provide sufficient records.

The coalition believes these measures would strengthen the partnership between the USTelecom-backed ITG and attorneys general, a relationship that led to the creation of the Anti-Robocall Principles. Those principles were established in August 2019 when 51 attorneys general and 12 major telecom providers took aim at reducing the number of unwanted and illegal robocalls reaching the American people.

More recently – and due in part to the support from the telecommunications industry and state attorneys general – the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act was signed into law by the federal government. This law enables the industry to develop call-authentication protocols to combat caller-ID spoofing and implement other sweeping anti-robocall measures.

In March, Yost announced the creation of his office’s Robocall Enforcement Unit, which has already received more than 13,000 robocall complaints. Ohioans can report unwanted robocalls by texting “ROBO” to 888111, visiting OhioProtects.org or calling 1-800-282-0515.