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Attorney General Kilmartin Joins Fight Against Robo-Calls to Cell Phones

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin joined his fellow attorneys general in asking Congress to oppose legislation targeting consumers' telephone privacy. The "Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011" [H.R. 3035] would amend the Communications Act of 1934 and allow for robo-calling to all cell phones, leaving consumers to foot the bill, Kilmartin said. For example, debt collectors and other businesses could place automated "informational" calls to cell phones, impacting those who pay by the minute or have a limited number of minutes available.

In addition, since businesses frequently have the wrong contact information, consumers could be getting and paying for repeated robo-calls on their cell phones to accounts that are not their own.

"This federal measure if passed would constitute an assault on Americans' telephone privacy," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "This bill would allow robo-call messages to be sent en masse to people who do not want and have to pay for these calls. This presents a clear and present danger to individuals' privacy in and out of their homes."

The attorneys general are asking members of Congress to reject U.S. House Resolution 3035. As chief protectors of consumer rights, many state attorneys general would not be able to enforce their more strict state laws against junk faxes, prerecorded calls or text messages.

This legislation would also narrow the definition of what constitutes an illegal "automatic telephone dialing system." If passed, the new definition would only prohibit "random or sequential number generators" which means "targeted" calls would be permitted, according to the Attorney General.

Currently, federal law allows robo-calls to be placed to people who have given their explicit consent to receive them or in case of an emergency. If this federal legislation passes, the law will be expanded to allow businesses to robo-call any consumer who has provided their telephone number in the course of a transaction – regardless if a consumer asks not to be contacted.

In the letter, officials also pointed out that an increase in calls to mobile phones could present a hazard to drivers who may become distracted. A 2009 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that cell phone use was involved in 995 or 18 percent of fatalities in distraction-related crashes.

"The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is meant to protect consumers and this bill goes in the wrong direction by opening a Pandora's box – giving businesses carte blanche to make calls to personal cell phones regardless of consumers' wishes of whether or not to get those calls," continued Kilmartin.

The proposal is currently being considered in the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce – the first step in the legislative process.

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